December 1, 2008

Latest Bad Genetic Testing Idea

From the New York Times:
Sports May Be Child's Play, but Genetic Testing Is Not:
Born to Run? Little Ones Get Test for Sports Gene
By JULIET MACUR

BOULDER, Colo.--When Donna Campiglia learned recently that a genetic test might be able to determine which sports suit the talents of her 2 ½-year-old son, Noah, she instantly said, Where can I get it and how much does it cost?

"I could see how some people might think the test would pigeonhole your child into doing fewer sports or being exposed to fewer things, but I still think it's good to match them with the right activity," Ms. Campiglia, 36, said as she watched a toddler class at Boulder Indoor Soccer in which Noah struggled to take direction from the coach between juice and potty breaks.

"I think it would prevent a lot of parental frustration," she said.

In health-conscious, sports-oriented Boulder, Atlas Sports Genetics is playing into the obsessions of parents by offering a $149 test that aims to predict a child's natural athletic strengths. The process is simple. Swab inside the child's cheek and along the gums to collect DNA and return it to a lab for analysis of ACTN3, one gene among more than 20,000 in the human genome.

The test's goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two. A 2003 study discovered the link between ACTN3 and those athletic abilities.

If you want to find out if your kid is genetically best at sprinting or at distance running, then watch him while he sprints and runs and see which one he's better at. Or you could ask him which one he likes to do more.

Let's just assume that genetic tests for athletic ability actually worked. How useful would they be?

Well, if you are the Commissar of Olympic Sports in Red China charged with maximizing the gold medal count at the 2024 Olympics, sure, it would be helpful to have a whole battery of genetic tests given to all the children in the country in order to identify the little girls with the genetic potential to win gold in Lady's Weightlifting or whatever, but, otherwise, so what? During the Olympics, you could read all these stories where the Chinese lady shotput champion would admit that she never wanted to be shotputter, she wanted to be a nurse, but the sports cadres had picked her out at age six as having the physical makings of an Olympic medalist, so she felt it was her duty to her parents and country to put aside her foolish dreams of helping sick children and devote her life to putting the shot.

In America, though, if your kid doesn't want to be a triple-jumper or whatever, he isn't going to work hard enough to get good at it no matter what his genetic potential.

The point of playing childhood sports should be to play childhood sports.

The one kind of test that might be useful would be a more accurate estimate of ultimate height, since so many sports and/or positions depend heavily upon growing up to be really tall. You can estimate adult height from child height, but it's pretty inaccurate. All through my childhood, my pediatrician would plot my height on a graph and inform me that I was right on schedule to grow up to be 6'0". But, I ended up four inches taller.

An accurate estimate of adult height would be mostly useful in a negative sense in it might discourage some kids from over-specializing in height-dependent sports like basketball. The majority of black youths who think they are going to grow up to be in the NBA won't make six feet tall. Similarly, more than a few white dads invest enormous amounts of time and money in nurturing their sons to be NFL quarterbacks, many of whom won't get close to the 6'-1" or so minimum height.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

31 comments:

Brad said...

Also success in some sports depends on staying short, like becoming a top class jockey.

White Basketball said...

Screw it anyway, since the whole professional sports world is going to crumble in the coming Greater Depression.

Anonymous said...

"I could see how some people might think the test would pigeonhole your child into doing fewer sports or being exposed to fewer things, but I still think it's good to match them with the right activity," Ms. Campiglia, 36, said as she watched a toddler class at Boulder Indoor Soccer in which Noah struggled to take direction from the coach between juice and potty breaks."

Ugh. Bolder, 'Noah', 36 yr old soccer Mom tracking and denying tracking toddler son's sport progress. The self parody here is too much.

Is she married, what does her husband do in Bolder, software development manager?

Bill said...

Yes, this is pretty retarded. The standing long jump (broad jump) and vertical leap would be a lot cheaper than this test.

Funny, I ended up shorter than predicted. The doctor thought I'd be 6'3" or so due to my foot size, but I turned out to be a paltry 6'1".

The Cold Equations said...

This particular test isn't very informative anyway

We're not going to have Gattaca-style predictions of personal ability for decades.

Hugh Oxford said...

I'm 5'5" and I've always loved sport and exercise. Not sure I appreciate the existence of height discrimination in society though!

Anonymous said...

"I think it would prevent a lot of parental frustration," she said."

I should think the children feel equally frustrated by this kind of parental pressure.

SKT said...

What I think is funny is the number of people in America who pursue sports as a career... Or you could say the same thing about all those rejects on American Idol that really thought they would be the next pop star.

Rob said...

I don't think DNA tests are bad in general. I mean a person could benefit healthwise I'm sure by knowing certain things, but this is just nuts. Anyway, if a person has that kind of money to spend, they must be rich and are better suited as professional spectators than atheletes, so it seems.....LOL

John Craig said...

Ditto. My doctor said 6'1", I ended up 5' 11". I swam, and eventually set a masters world record in the 200 fly, but that's just 'cause I'm the kind of little weenie who hung on for 25 years after college. I wasn't good enough to compete with the big studs when it counted.

rightsaidfred said...

>>>>Ugh. Bolder, 'Noah', 36 yr old soccer Mom tracking and denying toddler son's sport progress. The self parody here is too much.

Funny.

I'm far more impressed by the environmental factors affecting sports performance. Sport talent per capita in small high schools is impressive. The sense of community and a shared goal are powerful motivators.

AMac said...

"The Cold Equations," supra, links to Daniel MacArthur's blog comment on this ACTN3 test. As a grad student, he made the key discovery about the correlation between ACTN3 alleles and sprinting performance.

MacArthur goes into more detail; overall, his views are in line with those expressed by Steve in this post. (Discussion of ACTN3 and Bolt's performance in the Beijing Olympics here.)

The ACTN3/sprinting connection was also the stepping off point for scienceblogger Greg Laden's exercise in plusgoodthink, The Gene For Running Fast Or Far. Y'know, the logic of if ACTN3 doesn't determine athletic ability, then 'race' is entirely a social construct...

nerobo said...

What became of the guy whose dad raised him from a toddler to be a quarterback? He played Div 1 and a couple of years in the pros (15-20 yrs ago?). I believe an article in SI (while he was in college) said he had never eaten a hamburger or a candy bar.

Robert said...

There is tooo much emphasis placed on sports by parents in this country already. Why go further?

Anonymous said...

I am 6'3" - 6'4". I used to mingle with professional football and basketball players I was bigger and taller than most football players and nearly all the guards and some basketball forwards.

When my son played basketball in college they billed him at 6'5". He was just 6 feet in his stocking feet.

All professional sports folks lie about their height it is a matter of dollars and cents.

The lying started in Jr High for my son.

albertosaurus said...

Steve;

It grieves me to have to tell you this. Your inner child seems to have died. You are not prepared for the future.

I too am 6'4". But all the time I was growing up I wasn't very big. In junior high I was small. However I was pretty sure I would be taller because my father was 6'4". The parent's height has long been the best predictor of the child's ultimate height. Of course there is some regression to the mean when your parents are two or more SDs above the mean.

I was therefore psychologically prepared for that year when I grew five inches. Nobody gave me an X-Ray looking for a pituitary tumor. There was no panic. It had been more or less expected.

I was just a late bloomer joining everyone else in my tall family (my six foot tall uncle was refered to as 'the runt').

I bloomed late also academically. In high school I never got a grade above a 'C'. When I went to college I hardly got ever got a grade below an 'A'. However I was prepared for this change too because I had taken so many IQ and IQ like test in high school. I always scored around the 99th percentile. At the time it seemed very odd since I had often been tracked into the 'slow' classes. I suppose they thought I was some kind of an underachiever or oddball.

Self knowledge is good. IQ tests are good. Genetic tests are good.

You will be very disappointed if you hope that genetic tests will not be exploited. In my high school we had genetic tests for a whole battery of athletic abilities. We called it gym class.

The gym teachers introduced us to all sorts of different activities. They didn't know who had the 'right' genes. But it was soon revealed.

I had two buddies in high school. We considered each other equally talented athletically. Then the day it was announced that we would run the 220, one of the guys confidently said that he was going to be recruited for the track team. We went to the track and ran. There was a bunch of us looking at his ass as he flew to the front. I couldn't have been more surprised if he were Clark Kent and revealed his secret identity. And yes the track coach got up and walked over to talk to him.

Putting a group of kids on a track is a genetic test. In our case it was administered at 16. This sort of thing I suspect happens everyday in high schools across the country. Previosly unsuspected abilities emerge.

In the future the genetic test will happen when the kid is maybe two. This will give everybody more time to prepare.

I doubt if America is losing very many athletes. Althletic talent isn't likely to be 'slipping between the cracks'. The high school track coaches are too alert.

But for only $149 many parents will want to know ahead of time.

Anonymous said...

A few years ago the Royal Ballet Company school was x-raying boy dancers' wrists to estimate their full-grown height. It might have saved a few kids some later heartbreak.

Then again, it might be better for a child to have a dream as long as possible.

jody said...

minimum height for NFL quarterbacks in 6-0. so, pretty close to steve's 6-1 guestimate.

on a related note, the NFL operates with a rigid, blacks-only policy at running back at cornerback. this is totally and completely artificial. nevertheless, one only has to look at the color of a child's skin to know whether or not he will ever play those 2 positions. if a child is not black, then when it comes to these two positions, it doesn't matter how good they are in high school, they won't be offered many DI scholarships, and it doesn't matter how good they do in NCAA football, they won't be given many chances to play in the NFL.

only in dire, extreme emergencies are white athletes allowed to play those positions in NFL football. IE the team could not find literally any black scrub, even some division I reject, to sign on short notice.

and then, regardless of how well they may perform, as soon as any, and i do mean literally any, black scrub is available, the white player is moved quickly back to his racially correct position as a fullback, safety, or linebacker.

in the entire world of sports, these are the only two jobs which one race completely monopolizes. even in steve's pet world of 100 meter sprinting, you don't have to go very deep into the rankings to find non-west african sprinters. but in NFL football, artificial black american monopoly is the rule.

nsam said...

arranged marriage may be a better approach

--
The future NBA star was born on September 12, 1980, in Shanghai, the largest city in China. Yao is his family's name, and Ming his given name. At birth, he weighed ten pounds and was the only child of parents who were unusually tall themselves. His father, Yao Zhiyuan, stands six-foot, ten inches tall, and was a basketball player for a local Shanghai team. Yao's mother, Fang Fengdi, was six-foot, two inches in height and had played on the Chinese national team in the early 1970s.
--

Anonymous said...

>>>"When my son played basketball in college they billed him at 6'5". He was just 6 feet in his stocking feet."

At my Division I (football and basketball)bowl attending, NCAA final-four berth school, the football players and basketball players REALLY did measure at least 6'4" and up and were ENORMOUS. Sports are fun for the kids but our three sons' energies are channeled into acedemics 'cause there is no way in hell they are reaching above 6' with the midget genetics they have.

Anonymous said...

"What I think is funny is the number of people in America who pursue sports as a career... Or you could say the same thing about all those rejects on American Idol that really thought they would be the next pop star."

Well, there is an element of sensibility to it. With sports and entertainment, and unlike other fields, not having an IQ 1 or 2sd above the mean isn't necessarily a barrier to making it big But yeah, even if there is some realistic calculation about IQ, even if subconscious, in pursuing this sort of goal, there is plenty of denial concerning talent.

SKT said...

"Well, there is an element of sensibility to it. With sports and entertainment, and unlike other fields, not having an IQ 1 or 2sd above the mean isn't necessarily a barrier to making it big But yeah, even if there is some realistic calculation about IQ, even if subconscious, in pursuing this sort of goal, there is plenty of denial concerning talent."

Yeah, maybe. But it's just funny how many of them really think they're going to be the next Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson. The tall ones go for sports and the average height and below ones think they'll all become rock stars or movie stars, or at least get VJ gigs on MTV.

Anonymous said...

"What became of the guy whose dad raised him from a toddler to be a quarterback? He played Div 1 and a couple of years in the pros (15-20 yrs ago?). I believe an article in SI (while he was in college) said he had never eaten a hamburger or a candy bar."

Todd Marinovich? Went from team to team, Canadian league, arrest, arrest ... last known to be a drug/alcohol abuse counselor

On the absurdity of testing, how many of us who played sports didn't know the kid who was physically blessed but just had no heart for the game. You can't test for that.

CJ said...

Ahh yes, Todd "Robo-QB" Marinovich. A sad and cautionary tale.

Anonymous said...

An accurate estimate of adult height would be mostly useful in a negative sense in it might discourage some kids from over-specializing in height-dependent sports like basketball.

Making a team in college is the single best way (ignoring grades) to boost your value to future employers. A guy who got a 3.5 while playing for the ____ team at a D3 school has shown more than the guy who didn't make any teams, and there really aren't any general activities to make up the difference.

Black Sea said...

"The test's goal is to determine whether a person would be best at speed and power sports like sprinting or football, or endurance sports like distance running, or a combination of the two."

Well, this seems rather deliberately crafted to me, in the sense that parents are presented with two athletic characteristics - speed and endurance - and then are told which their child would be better at, or whether he's roughly equal in both areas. This allows the testing company to focus its conclusions in such as way as to avoid the unpleasant reality that most kids aren't be particularly talented in either area.

Informstion given to parents: Your child has significantly greater potential in endurance-related activities.

Information not given to parents: Your child is at the 20th percentile in speed activities, and the 30th percentile in endurance activities. You better buy him a computer.

Bill said...

On the absurdity of testing, how many of us who played sports didn't know the kid who was physically blessed but just had no heart for the game. You can't test for that.

-anon


No doubt. I went to an inner-city high school, and some of the black kids could fly, but just didn't give a damn. I was a white boy with a hell of an arm, but I didn't really give a damn either. I remember sitting there over a smoking bowl laughing about how the coach wanted me and another friend to turn out for football. Maybe it was foolish, but it felt like freedom at the time.

My friend's dad was drafted by the SF Giants but decided to go to med school instead. Being an athlete is a career choice like any other. If you want to spend years running and throwing balls, great. But not everyone's so excited by that.

There are choices and sacrifices we all make. I suppose it's easier to regret those in hindsight, but there are a lot of things that go into forging the nature of a man. The contest on the field is no substitute for the raw challenge of an undefined life. The stench of ripped turf and the jolts of physical contact may lend some animation and poignancy to existence, but it's nothing like trying to justify one's perseverance in the face of undeniable irrelevance. Athleticism has its beauty, but it is a simpler, ritualized struggle. It seems to me to be a pilgrimage on the ancient path we traversed on our journey to becoming men.

Black Sea said...

I happened to remember the story of John Frank, a tight end for the San Francisco 49ers, who retired early to pursue a career in medicine. As I remembered it, he wanted to become a surgeon, and was afraid of messing up his hands. What I didn't know until now is that he is Jewish. Culture, upbringing, or genetic destiny?

You decide.

On the other hand, Bill Goldberg went on to become a professional wrestler, so there is always that to consider.

http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/18767/edition_id/378/format/html/displaystory.html

SFG said...

Making a team in college is the single best way (ignoring grades) to boost your value to future employers. A guy who got a 3.5 while playing for the ____ team at a D3 school has shown more than the guy who didn't make any teams, and there really aren't any general activities to make up the difference.
Exactly. The real point of sports isn't to become a professional athlete, it's to become a high school and college athlete and gain the self-confidence and social skills that come from gaining a high social position early in life. Your kid won't be the next Brett Favre, but if he plays football in high school, he's got a better chance at the corner office.

Anonymous said...

Like father, like son. Usually all somebody needs to do is look at what their parents are good at and that will give them a pretty good idea of what they will be good at.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. The real point of sports isn't to become a professional athlete, it's to become a high school and college athlete and gain the self-confidence and social skills ...

That is the difference between athletics and entertainment.

Also, I'd submit that the purpose of athletics is to gain the self-confidence and social skills that come from discipline, esprit de corps, and persevering through pain and fatigue.

--Senor Doug