Taboo: Why black athletes dominate sports and why we're afraid to talk about it

By Jon Entine (January, 2000.)

The raging debate about the average intelligence between races or ethnic groups has always been equated with male athletic ability as well, but it has been kept off the table for discussion as to the genetic component of black dominance in sports. This book finally brings that chapter to a close, and we can begin to look at athleticism with the same tools and analytical perception that we have devoted to intelligence. Of course, sports are just that, and nations and economies do not fall and rise based on the athletic ability of their athletes, but on the creativity and intelligence of their people. So it is only fitting that intelligence would be studied far longer and with greater interest than sports. But with the dominance of blacks in sports, those who demand fairness have the right to ask, "why not affirmative action in sports for whites and Asians?"

This book, using many of the same multiple techniques that have been used to debunk the radical environmentalists' assertion that anyone can become a brain surgeon with the right nurturing, has now debunked the myths that environmental conditions have produced a disproportionate number of blacks in key areas of sports. Unlike intelligence, it is absurd to assert that the tests are biased because the tests are simply running races, jumping higher, quick burst of speed for sprints, and endurance for marathons. Instead of arguing that the tests are biased, sports have numerous tests and reformulations of ability that come into play in winning the prestigious top positions on teams and in contests.

This easy to read book does not attempt to look at every form of athletic ability. It concentrates on two primary adaptations that are important in many sports: quick bursts of speed and long distance endurance. In fact, a good portion of the book looks at the asymmetry of black abilities: sprinting and long distance running. What is amazing is that sprinters come from West Africa; but the long distance marathon runners are virtually all from the same ethnic group in Kenya--the Kalenjin. That is, the world male marathon runners come from virtually the same ethnic group.

Taboo digs into evolution itself, and explains how individual differences are not only possible but are to be expected from the history of humans evolving in radically different climates and ecologies. Different racial groups evolved adaptations that helped them to survive, and it is only natural that intelligence and physical attributes as well would not be equally distributed under drastically varying environments. In fact, J. Philippe Rushton, in his 1995 book Race, Evolution and Behavior describes the numerous ways that whites, blacks and Asians are different, and how it came about because of different selection patterns for survival. Asians and whites for example experienced severe selection for intelligence when faced with glacial conditions in their northerly habitats, Asians more so than whites, resulting in a somewhat higher IQ. (Rushton's new abridged book on this matter has just been released, and makes good reading to fill in the blanks on racial differences not covered in Taboo.)

But in order for genetic differences to be apparent, environmental variables must be somewhat the same. Over the last forty years, with equal opportunity for blacks and whites in both sports and academics, we are seeing these racial differences emerge when they were once thought to be merely reflections of disparate opportunities. There is a principle in behavior genetics that states, "as environmental differences go to zero the remainder becomes genetic."  But of course this is a big dilemma for the nave environmentalists: how would lack of opportunity keep whites out of sports?  It is every boy's dream to be an athletic star.

The book points out that of the 32 finalists in the last four Olympic Men's 100 meter races, all of them were of west African descent. The probability of that occurring is less than: 0.0000000000000000000000000000000001 percent! Unless of course there is a very good reason for this to occur that is not tied to innate ability--but none can be found.

No less impressive is the fact that almost all medium and long distance races are dominated by east Africans, and 75% of them are members of the Kalenjin ethnic group, who were primarily cattle rustlers and warriors. Apparently, rustling cattle on foot and at night meant that swift runners would live long and happy lives, compared to the slower runners.   At least this is one scenario given for this tribes very unique long distance ability.   Some have claimed that they are good long-distance runners because of the high altitude, but there are numerous other groups around the world who have evolved at high altitudes and do not have this unique ability.

After explaining how this very unique ethnic group--the Kalenjin--finds running long distances so innately easy, without even training hard, Entine goes into explaining the political motivations of those scholars who try to deny any genetic differences between races. Anyone familiar with this lengthy debate will recognize the same stale Marxist advocates' Stephan J. Gould and Richard Lewontin, et al. (see my web site for excerpts from scholars on Gould's pseudoscientific distortions.) The claim is made that humans cannot and do not genetically differ significantly enough to cause average differences between races of people on other than superficial traits--like skin color and hair.

But is that true? The book goes into a well-balanced review of what is known about our evolutionary past, including explaining how there has been ample time and circumstances for population groups or races to diverge in genetic frequencies, making genetic differences real and substantial.   Even President Clinton has gotten on the Marxist bandwagon as of late, declaring that everyone is 99% genetically the same. Unfortunately, that also makes us genetically closer to chimpanzees than chimpanzees are to orangutans. Should we then extend voting rights to chimpanzees? No doubt they would all be Democrats as they would all get transfer payments from humans.

Another excellent expose of the fiction behind the "we are all alike and there is no such thing as race," is from Dr. Arthur Jensen's recent book The g Factor: the science of mental ability (available at my web site). Jensen also discusses "splitters and lumpers" when it comes to races, and he also lays down the mathematical foundations for showing that intelligence, like athletic ability, must be genetic when the differences are as great as they are, an area that Taboo seems to have not covered very well objectively.

Taboo does provide a breakdown by Stanford University geneticists on racial differences. The largest genetic differences between the three major races are (1) Africans; (2) New Guineans and Australians, Pacific Islanders, and Southeast Asians; and (3) Northeast Asians, Artic Asians, American Indians, Europeans, and non-European Caucasoids. But one thing is certain, genetic studies of indigenous populations that have been intact since 1492, before the great migrations, show diverse and significant genetic differences between population groups. Coupling this with behavior genetic studies of these population groups or races adds the differentiation of numerous behavioral and physiological traits that characterizes the evolutionary past of different people. They are real, they are significant, and they matter.

But Darwinism or evolution, however well grounded, had some problems with regards to some unanswered questions that were perplexing and wouldn't go away. Then, a series of breakthroughs in understanding gene selection and group selection (inclusive fitness), in addition to individual natural selection, led to numerous new discoveries and insights. This nascent neo-Darwinism culminated in the revolutionary publication in 1975 entitled Sociobiology: The New Synthesis by Edward O. Wilson. It was immediately attacked because it concluded that humans were selected by the same algorithms as all other creatures--no more or less. We could not escape evolutionary rules just because we were human.

At this point, the tide began to shift back to concepts of genetic differences between races and away from the Marxist/egalitarian dogma that had prevailed since WW II.  Jon Entine in Taboo explains this pendulum shift back to scientific reality:

Diamond offered a more colorful version of an argument advanced in 1972 by Richard Lewontin, a Harvard University geneticist. Lewontin had become convinced that virtually all meaningful differences between races are either random or culturally determined. Based on his review of the available data, he concluded that only a tiny fraction of the differences between individuals could be considered "racial." In other words, Lewontin maintained that the differences that separate "races" are little more than what distinguishes two random fans at a World Cup match--statistically nothing, genetically speaking. The article, published in the prestigious journal Evolutionary Biology, amounted to a frontal attack on the concept of race.

For sure genetic differences between any two individuals are extremely small in percentage terms. Coming from a geneticist, rather than a sociologist or anthropologist, Lewontin's article had enormous influence, although not everyone was convinced. Lewontin's finding that on average humans share 99.8 percent of genetic material and that any two individuals are apt to share considerably more than 90 percent of this shared genetic library is on target. Interpreting that data is another issue, however. Lewontin's analysis suffers both scientifically and politically.

Although the politics of a scientist is not necessarily an issue in evaluating their work, in Lewontin's case it is crucial. According to his own account, his sensibilities were catalyzed by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He made it very clear that his science was in part a mission to reaffirm our common humanity. To geneticists and biologists with less of an avowed agenda, Lewontin appeared to leaven his conclusion with his personal ideology.

From a scientific perspective, Lewontin and those that have relied on his work have reached beyond the data to some tenuous conclusions. In fact the percentage of differences is a far less important issue than which genes are different. Even minute differences in DNA can have profound effects on how an animal or human looks and acts while huge apparent variations between species may be almost insignificant in genetic terms. Consider the cichlid fish, which can be found in Africa's Lake Nyas. The cichlid, which has differentiated from one species to hundreds over a mere 11,500 years, "differ among themselves as much as do tigers and cows," Jared Diamond has noted. "Some graze on algae, others catch other fish, and still others variously crush snails, feed on plankton, catch insects, nibble the scales off other fish, or specialize in grabbing fish embryos from brooding mother fish." The kicker, these variations are the result of infinitesimal genetic differences--about 0.4 percent of their DNA studied.

In humans too, it is not the percentage of genes that is most critical, but whether and how the genes impact our physiology or behavior. Diamond mused that if an alien were to arrive on our planet and analyze our DNA, humans would appear, from a genetic perspective, as a third race of chimpanzees. Although it is believed they took a different evolutionary path from humans only five million years ago, chimps share fully 98.4 percent of our DNA. Just 50 out of 100,000 genes that humans and chimps are thought to possess--or a minuscule 0.3 percent--may account for all of the cognitive differences between man and ape. For that matter, dogs share about 95 percent of our genome; even the tiny roundworm, barely visible to the naked eye, share about 74 percent of its genes with humans.

Most mammalian genes, as much as 70 percent, are "junk" that have accumulated over the course of evolution with absolutely no remaining function; whether they are similar or different is meaningless. But the key 1.4 percent of regulatory genes can and do have a huge impact on all aspects of our humanity. In other words, small genetic differences do not automatically translate into trivial bodily or behavioral variations. The critical factor is not which genes are passed along but how they are patterned and what traits they influence.

Lewontin did collate genetic variability from known genetic markers and find that most of it lay within and not between human populations. Numerous scientists since have generalized those findings to the entire human genome, yet no such study has been done. Now it is believed that such an inference is dicey at best. The trouble with genetic markers is that they display "junk" variability that sends a signal that variability within populations exceeds variability between populations. However, the "junk" DNA that has not been weeded out by natural selection accounts for a larger proportion of within-population variability. Genetic makers may therefore be sending an exaggerated and maybe false signal. In contrast, the harder-to-study regulatory genes (that circumscribe our physical and athletic abilities) signal that between-group variability is far larger than has been believed. In other words, human populations are genetically more different than Lewontin and others who have relied on his work realize.

Now, after 40 years of affirmative action, the questions persist why there are so many seemingly innate differences between races. The egalitarian left, in not giving up on finding excuses for these differences, keep trying. They keep looking for the elusive Factor X. That is, some cause for disparate racial differences that does not rely on genetics. But for the last couple of decades, behavior genetics has used the new tools of twin studies and sibling studies to determine, for numerous traits, how much is genetic and how much is environmental. For example, intelligence is approximately 60% genetic during childhood and approaches 80% when reaching adulthood. That is, whatever environmental differences impact intelligence, genetic causes are increasingly more important. There just is no evidence that given a moderately normal childhood, that is not being locked in the basement or some other horrific conditions, children grow up to have the intelligence that their genes equipped them with.

And the same is true of blacks when it comes to athletic ability. One very interesting aspect of black childhood is that black children are far more advanced than Asians or whites when it comes to walking, athleticism, etc. That is, blacks mature much faster than whites in physicality. This is in keeping with Rushton's r-K continuum, where the evolutionary strategy of sub-Saharan Africans relies less on parental investment and more on numerous births. The early ability of black children to be independent physically allows the mother to have more children. Whites and Asians invest more in their children, and therefore have fewer children. At the same time, this parental investment slows down the need for early precociousness, and allows for an increase in intelligence. This trade-off reflects the different environments impacting black versus Asian/white evolution. Blacks are more physical and less intelligent, Asian/whites are more intelligent but less physically robust. Evolving in a glacial climate meant planning ahead was far more important, and intelligence allows for this yearly cycle of planning and adapting to the severe cold.

Taboo discusses numerous aspects of these differences. Unlike the brain, muscles can be inspected and probed to find out how blacks are different. Far more options are available to see directly the genetic differences that are acting to make blacks better athletes--tools that are not available to those studying the differences in cognitive abilities. Looking for example at fast-twitch versus slow-twitch muscles, vascular density around muscles, different chemical reactions and energy conversion cell densities, these and many more differences must be in fact genetic. No amount of training, nutrition, or other supposed environmental cause could account for the genetic differences found. So unlike intelligence, these non-cognitive anatomical differences are visible, measurable, and they are significant. In every area of athletics except intelligence, blacks trounce everyone else.

Omissions are often as telling about an author's perspective as what they say. It is obvious that the author did not want to wade into the intelligence debate too deeply. However, it would have been enlightening to contrast those sports and the team positions that do require cognitive ability over pure athleticism. For instance, at one time quarterbacks on football teams were expected to "stay in the pocket" and did not need to scramble for a first down. Now, more and more, a quarterback that can run is an asset that is used quite often. In addition, quarterbacks now have receivers in their headsets to receive plays and instructions from coaches, so they do not need to think as much on their own as before. So, it would be expected that black quarterbacks would be more prevalent now than say twenty years ago. But this very obvious condition is not really discussed--though the author does admit to being a running enthusiast--not a football enthusiast--so the omission may be understandable. Though I doubt it never came up in discussions during the book's research.

Finally, to show how athletic ability cannot be attributed to training or other environmental causes, Taboo takes a look at the East German Communist athletic machine prior to the collapse of Communism. The East Germans had little to show for their utopian state, so they embraced an all-out effort to replace economic success with Olympic success. The weight of the totalitarian state was thrown behind one goal--to produce more Olympic stars than any other country for its size. No amount of effort was spared. All children, at an early age, were tested and observed to find the very best specimens for athletic competition. And once they entered the field of sport, nothing was spared for their advancement.

These future stars were given every opportunity to be the best they could be. They were sent to special athletic camps, elaborate sports stadiums and gymnasiums were built around the country, coaches and trainers were paid like Western CEOs to make them into winners. Nothing was spared, including sacrificing their future health to the state's goal.

On top of giving these athletes every available opportunity and resources, they also gave them every available strength enhancing drug, and as much as the athlete could endure, short of killing them. Men and women alike became enormously stronger with these drugs, and the State's scientists kept one step ahead of the Olympic skeptics and eventual tests to keep pumping up their athlete's ability artificially. What was the result of this enormous environmental enhancement, both naturally and chemically artificial? Blacks who had no special training, opportunities, or drugs were still able to beat the East German athletic machine. Would this dispel the environmental cause of racial differences in abilities? Nope. Science breaks down at this point, just like it has with differences in intelligence, and dogma and ideology take over:

What would satisfy skeptics? "For me to be convinced," states Owen Anderson, "[geneticists] would simply have to identify the genes that are important for endurance performance and show that those genes are more prevalent among Kenyan runners. Since we don't know which genes are important, it's impossible to measure the relative frequencies of performance-enhancing genes in different groups of runners." Since specific genes cannot yet be directly linked to specific sport skills, Anderson refuses to even consider that there may be population-linked athletic talents. By demanding a "smoking gun," he has set up a straw man.

Evolutionary biologist Jonathan Marks has erected his own nearly impossible standard. Marks asserts that only an airtight experiment would convince him that there are meaningful differences between populations--yet he knows that airtight experiments are impossible. A scientist can test the patellar tendon reflex, measure the muscle fiber types, or evaluate endurance in a laboratory, but sports demands the messy reality of a playing field. "If no scientific experiments are possible, than what are we to conclude?" he writes. "That discussing innate abilities is the scientific equivalent of discussing properties of angels."

Ironically, the arguments advanced by Marks and Anderson echo the creationist attack on evolution. "The evidence for evolution is far less compelling than we have been led to believe," the Creation Legal Research Fund represented in a legal brief argued (unsuccessfully) before the Supreme Court. "Evolution is not a scientific 'fact,' since it cannot actually be observed in a laboratory. . . . The scientific problems with evolution are so serious that it could accurately be termed a 'myth.'" In other words, since no one was present at earth's beginning, and the creation of life cannot be replicated in an experiment, any statement about the origin of life is "the scientific equivalent of discussing properties of angels," to borrow Marks's phrase.

If scientific theories depend only upon observable evidence or laboratory experiments then everything from the atomic theory of matter to the theory that the earth revolves around the sun could be written off as speculative. Geneticists may never isolate the particular strands of DNA that resolve what little ambiguity remains in the debate about race and athletics, "but that is not the same as saying that there is not a genetic basis for the racial patterns we see in sports," asserts Bengt Saltin. There is an incredibly complex relationship among genes, culture, potential, and performance. "Identifying genes will not and cannot expect to resolve the issue."

Nor should genetics by itself for athletic success is a bio-cultural phenomenon. Genetic and behavioral research has shown that genetics and the environment are part of an endless loop, each reinforcing and reshaping the other. At the end of the nineteenth century J. M. Baldwin observed that when a species learns a useful new skill--for argument sake, say, sprinting or jumping--the addition to its behavioral repertoire can reshape its biology. Over time, natural selection blesses the ensuing generations whose limbs and brains are suited to this learned maneuver and culls out those whose anatomy is ill suited to the innovation.

So it seems unlikely that this book will have any impact on the Marxist/egalitarian left who deny racial differences. But it does provide one more very important piece to the genetic puzzle that clearly understands that humans, just like any other species, must have differences between population groups in order for evolution to persist in changing the genetic code to deal with the existing environment. Athleticism was at one time and in some places very important to survival. Now, intelligence is very important for success. If we are to understand what made humans so different from any other species, we must take into account how we got here. Racial differences, properly understood, give us the understanding to progress rather than sink into a dysgenic morass of barbarism and inhumanity. Will we have the courage to accept the results of science?

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