August 27, 2013

David Epstein's "The Sports Gene" reviewed

From my book review in Taki's Magazine:
Structured around the dismantling of the profitable notion pushed by self-help seers such as Malcolm Gladwell that 10,000 hours of monomaniacal practice is the secret of success, David Epstein’s The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance is one of the best books on human biodiversity in recent years.  
Beyond undermining Gladwellian blank-slatism, Epstein extols the sheer pleasure of noticing humanity’s variety for its own sake. On his book’s penultimate page, he writes:  
…sports will continue to provide a splendid stage for the fantastic menagerie that’s human biological diversity. Amid the pageantry of the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, make sure to look for the extremes of the human physique.…It is breathtaking to think that, in the truest genetic sense, we are all a large family, and that the paths of our ancestors have left us wonderfully distinct. 
Epstein, a Sports Illustrated reporter, builds upon the work of journalists such as Jon Entine (Taboo) and me in taking an evenhanded look at the roles of both nature and nurture.

Read the whole thing there.

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Interesting concept for a book. The question remains, however, if a sports gene can be determined to exist, might not also other genes be said to exist?

In another field, such as an academic gene (or....IQ gene) could also said to exist?

If studies were to be done say, on how various groups do on tests that are academic based: science, math, english, reading, etc. and then determine the overall effects on each group depending on the results, what might those results determine?


Sounds like the Bell Curve. Oh wait.

And we can see how that project was received.

You're right though, holding two divergent ideas simultaneously. Not easy. Not by a long shot.

sunbeam said...

From the article:

"Epstein also speculates that the high fraction of fast-twitch muscle fibers in West Africans might have evolved as a defense against malaria. This is not a prima facie ridiculous idea, since falciparum malaria is arguably the worst disease on Earth and produces the most Darwinian pressure to evolve defenses."

I'm curious about something. Does any other population on earth have the same propensity to fast twitch muscle fiber?

What I'm driving at, is this useful for anything but as a side effect of resisting malaria? (I think other kinds of genetic resistances have evolved in other populations.)

With as many different populations as we have had, and as many different ecosystems they inhabit and have adapted to...

Has anyone else ever had similar adaptions? Is speed in the sprinting events something that enables survival in some fashion?

Maybe I'm wrong, but as far as I know this is the only population on earth that seems to be uniquely gifted as far as sprinting goes.

Seems like it would have been useful somewhere else, but if it is, I'm drawing a blank.

New Guinea has some serious malaria issues in the lowlands, but I've never heard of a sprinter from there.

Marlo said...

"The question remains, however, if a sports gene can be determined to exist, might not also other genes be said to exist?

In another field, such as an academic gene (or....IQ gene) could also said to exist?"

It's "obvious" that IQ genes exist, but establishing a strong correlation between a gene and an IQ score is difficult. Moreover, when they discover these genes, they probably won't be distributed in a manner consistent with "HBD". More likely is that blacks have a bigger IQ distribution than whites or Asians because there's greater genetic variance among them, and more variation in cranial volume as well.

In light of these facts HBDers will ask, "Then why have blacks never produced a civilization on par with Europeans or Asians?". This, of course, is a loaded question since we know that civilization reached Sudan and Ethiopia long before it reached Northerwestern Europe. In fact, the natives of Western Europe had made no advances in science and technology until the 15th century.

It stands to reason that as countries in Africa and the Caribbean become more economically competitive and invest more in education, blacks will produce as many scientists and engineers as they do athletes.

Anonymous said...

10,000 hours of monomaniacal practice is the secret of success

Are even the most simplistic of syllogistic pretensions, such as "NECESSARY BUT NOT SUFFICIENT" no longer in the vernacular of our petty bourgeois elites?

slumber_j said...

Dennis Rodman is of course one of the great historical examples of wingspan theory: at 6'-7" officially (thought to be closer to 6'-6" in reality), he had a wingspan of 7'-7". Which made him indisputably the greatest rebounder in NBA history, and perhaps a sort of all-time MPV according to this analysis:

http://skepticalsports.com/?page_id=1222

Anonymous said...

"…the average white American NBA player was 6’7.5” with a wingspan of 6’10.” The average African-American NBA player was 6’5.5” with 6’11” wingspan; shorter but longer."

The differences might be even more pronounced among the general population.
Because blacks are fast and strong, blacks of all sizes and heights can do well in the NBA.
Since whites are slower, they need the advantage of greater height to play in the NBA.
So, while a wide range of blacks play in the NBA--with even short blacks being able to dunk the ball--, the range of whites in the NBA is narrower.
So, while black characteristics in the NBA may be characteristic of blacks in general, white characteristics in the NBA may be atypical for whites in general.

Look at Yao Ming. Since Chinese are even slower than whites, they needed to rely on super height. But Yao was very very atypical as a Chinese and not representative of the Asian race at all.

So, while the best black players are most characteristic of blackness, best Chinese players are least characteristic of Chineseness.

Anonymous said...

This expains why Zimmy had to use the gub.

Anonymous said...

I can't help but root for Dan McLaughlin on his 10,000 hour quest to be a golf pro. Even if he doesn't make it, there's something uplifting about the sustained, concentrated effort translating to success (even if its not best-in-the-world success). In an interview he said that this is the happiest he's been in his life -- and I'm inclined to think that's not because of free golf clubs and no office job, but because he's fully engaged in something he finds meaningful.

More people should aspire to be good at something even when they know they won't be the best (video games and other obvious exceptions apply).

pat said...

The greater wingspan of black basketball players is probably a central difference not a minor one.

The various races are about 50,000 years old. At that time Europe was peopled with Neanderthals and the world was in middle of one od its periodic ice maxima. The Africans who spread out to tale over the world had tropical bodies. That is: long thin limbs. The Neanderthals they replaced were stockier as a consequence of Allen's and Bergmann's rule.

Not all the Neanderthal's died without issue. All non-Africans today have about two or three percent Neanderthal heritage. My recent DNA scan showed that I am 2.9% Neanderthal. Slightly higher than the average white European.

Yes it's true "White Men Can't Dunk" but they can come closer to the rim than the Eskimo.

Albertosaurus

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the media spotlight so cheaply won by Cyrus will inevitably spur repeats of her silly stunt, by her and others. Image and profile now rule the music industry."

Copycat transgression

http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/27/pops-drop-from-madonna-to-miley/#ixzz2dHPaRTcF

Anonymous said...

http://www.examiner.com/article/cops-mob-beating-of-white-victim-was-racially-motivated-press-ignores

Ignored by the 'American' media.

-----------

Epstein:

"It is breathtaking to think that, in the truest genetic sense, we are all a large family, and that the paths of our ancestors have left us wonderfully distinct."

I guess he had to use such gushing rhetoric to justify the thesis of his book. Since the PC mantra calls for 'we are all alike', an argument for racial differences has to make it sound so wonderful and glorious.
Wow, it's so colorful and fun like the diversity at a dog show.

But there is something disingenuous about Epstein celebration of human biodiversity since these differences aren't restricted to the sporting fields but have an impact on our daily lives. If indeed blacks are faster, tougher, and more explosive, it means they make better fighters, gangbangers, street thugs, bullies. It means in schools, buses, public squares, back alleys, streets in integrated communities, and etc., black thugs are gonna have an easy time pushing others around.
How wonderful is that? If someone like Mike Tyson bashes your head in, do you celebrate the breathtaking racial differences? Oh Gee, that guy has the muscle power to break my neck with one blow, the sort of power my kind wouldn't have in a million yrs. How wonderful!!!

Unless this discussion about racial differences addresses their impact on social reality, it is worthless. So, it's welcome as a start, but it must be let out of the cage so that we can finally deal with matters that have real impact in our real lives.
I mean who cares if some black guy wins the gold medal? But we do care if he enters your house and acts like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0bd7TYGPac

The chances are... if the white hubby had been home, he would have been Willie Hortonized by the Negro. And why? Blacks are faster and tougher than whites.



Power Child said...

Many people are uncomfortable (at best) with HBD because they believe putting people on trains is the next logical step once HBD is acknowledged. Are they simply unable to hold two divergent ideas in their heads simultaneously?

Institute of Economic Understanding said...

It's OK to accept that genetics play a role in the variances of athletic ability, but not intellectual, probably because the later is superseding the former in terms of employment, reverence etc. Nowadays people look up to scientists and other intellectual professions more than athletes. Pseudo and junk science like the 10000 hour rule are designed to to give the masses hope that they too can covet skills that are otherwise intellectually out of reach -if only one practices enough in a perfectly 'level' playing field. There so many exceptions to the 10000 hour rule, as well as other aphorisms intended to 'level' individual exceptionalism.

Anonymous said...

Wow, he used the phrase "human biological diversity"?

Just Noticing said...

Woe is Steve. His idols have no trouble getting their work published by the prestige press. It must be because they're whiter than him.

Anonymous said...

t's OK to accept that genetics play a role in the variances of athletic ability, but not intellectual, probably because the later is superseding the former in terms of employment, reverence etc. Nowadays people look up to scientists and other intellectual professions more than athletes.

The reverse is true. The status of athletes, entertainers, etc. has risen relative to that of scientists and intellectuals over the past century. In the past, there were few to no superstar athletes relative to today. And actors, entertainers in general, were seen as being a low class occupation.

Anonymous said...

In light of these facts HBDers will ask, "Then why have blacks never produced a civilization on par with Europeans or Asians?". This, of course, is a loaded question since we know that civilization reached Sudan and Ethiopia long before it reached Northerwestern Europe. In fact, the natives of Western Europe had made no advances in science and technology until the 15th century.


Marlo. Couple things. Not that you'll notice...but...


Actually, around about the 13th century, but a technicality.

Uh,, forgot EGYPT and CHINA. Actually, China was waaay before Ethiopia and certainly is as ancient as Sudan, but nice try.

Then IN OTHER WORDS, SINCE about 5,000 or so YEARS AGO, African societies have plateaued IQ wise and have NOT produced equivalent to oh, advances in science math government etc.

Thank you for concurring Marlo



It stands to reason that as countries in Africa and the Caribbean become more economically competitive and invest more in education, blacks will produce as many scientists and engineers as they do athletes.


Now that's a lie. That is a lie. With all the trillions of dollars spent in Africa on education thru direct aid thru world bank aid etc etc in nearly 70 yrs, and still NOTHING....about time we admit when something ain't workin.

Anonymous said...

Institute of Economic Understanding said...
It's OK to accept that genetics play a role in the variances of athletic ability, but not intellectual, probably because the later is superseding the former in terms of employment, reverence etc. Nowadays people look up to scientists and other intellectual professions more than athletes.


Also...notice what ethnicities most of the scientists, mathematicians, etc are? And which ethnicity (or race) for the most part glaringly obvious omission is left out? Not part of the mix of "smart folks"?

Hmm...strange. Must be an answer. Perhaps staring us....in the face? Hmm...

We has pickle, we does,

Anonymous said...

The status of athletes, entertainers, etc. has risen relative to that of scientists and intellectuals over the past century. In the past, there were few to no superstar athletes relative to today. And actors, entertainers in general, were seen as being a low class occupation.


And, then the performing arts were also seen as lower IQ fields as compared to scientists and mathematicians. Still are, for the most part, when compared to scientists etc.

Did the culture "dumb" down more so relative to last century's turn of, or was it always this way?

The top 1% in IQ is going to be the top 1% no matter what. The 99% isn't ever gonna be part of it.

Anonymous said...

Nowadays people look up to scientists and other intellectual professions more than athletes.


Do they? In popular society? Where'd you hear that one?The reverse is true and has been for about 50yrs or so.

Or maybe you were being ironical.

WarLord said...

"BYU economist Joseph Price provided Epstein with some intriguing data on NBA players:

…the average white American NBA player was 6’7.5” (201,9 cm) with a wingspan of 6’10.” (208,3 cm=103,2% body height). The average African-American NBA player was 6’5.5” (196,9 cm) with 6’11” (210,8 cm=107,1% body height) wingspan; shorter but longer.

Epstein adds that the average African American in the NBA can jump 29.6” (75,2 cm) versus 27.3” (69,3 cm) for whites. Combined with the extra inch of reach, that helps explain the preponderance of blacks in a game where the single most important metric is how high in the air you can get your hand. One scientist told Epstein, “So maybe it’s not so much that white men can’t jump. White men just can’t reach high.”

------------------------

Sure, when we found out that black players are actually smaller than whites (and Europeans in general), their 80% predominance in NBA must be explained by that 2,15 cm higher vertical reach...! LOL (201,9+69,3=271,2 cm; 196,9+75,2=272,1 cm; 0,9 cm difference+1,25 cm in arm length=2,15 cm)

Besides that, the average BMI of basketball players is about 25 kg/m2, which is 2 kg/m2 more than in volleyball players (8 kg in a 200 cm tall male). Why, if "the single most important metric is how high in the air you can get your hand"? Why the hell must basketball players carry 8 kg more body mass?

Simply because in basketball, it's not only about vertical reach, but about physical superiority over your opponents. At the body height of 200 cm, your vertical reach is something little over 260 cm, which means that you only need a very mediocre 45 cm vertical jump to reach the basket hoop. And consider that a fast run-up adds additional 25 cm!

The numbers concerning arm span and body proportions would quite fit the available data in the general population, and sure, black boys in David Hunter's dissertation from 1988 achieved 5,5 cm better vertical jump than white boys, but I would have one additional note to the comparison of the vertical jump height: The performance in the vertical jump decreases with increasing body height, which means that comparison of data in people, whose body height differs by 5 cm is not perfectly fair.

The "explanations" presented in the article are only another ones in the row of mishmash hypotheses that ill-informed sensational journalists from USA offer. The more they know about the subject (and they still know very little), the more desperate they are to find some fundamental biological differences that could explain the striking ethnic stats in NBA. I would give them one advice, however: Look at your track and field national team and explain, why your white athletes can't match even some tiny European nations in many athletic events. Isn't it just events that are dominated by blacks in USA? If you reached this point in your reasoning, you are very close to the solution of your US sports mystery.

Truth said...

"Nowadays people look up to scientists and other intellectual professions more than athletes."

You tell 'em bro! That's why 80,000+ people are going to pack 15 stadiums, tailgating two hours before the game, Sunday after next, in America's largest metropolises to kickoff the start of the String Theory Lecture season.

Truth said...

"Sure, when we found out that black players are actually smaller than whites (and Europeans in general), their 80% predominance in NBA must be explained by that 2,15 cm higher vertical reach...! LOL"

Dude, I know, duh man be holdin' y'all down!

WarLord said...

The differences might be even more pronounced among the general population.
Because blacks are fast and strong, blacks of all sizes and heights can do well in the NBA.
Since whites are slower, they need the advantage of greater height to play in the NBA.
So, while a wide range of blacks play in the NBA--with even short blacks being able to dunk the ball--, the range of whites in the NBA is narrower.
So, while black characteristics in the NBA may be characteristic of blacks in general, white characteristics in the NBA may be atypical for whites in general.

-------------

First of all, (West African) blacks are fast, but they are not particularly strong. They are on the level of average Europeans. You shouldn't watch your National Steroid Leagues too often, because it distorts the reality a lot.

Second - yes, you observed the height advantage that whites have in basketball and the majority of global sports in general. Again, US blacks with their 178 cm are barely average by today's European standards.

Third, your final statement is partly true. US whites are not especially tall, but some European populations are as much as 6-7 cm taller than US blacks. So the difference that we find between US blacks and US whites in NBA could be characteristic, if we compared US blacks with the tallest Europeans.

instituteofeconomics said...

no i wasn't being sarcastic but I base this off my own observations . on reddit , for example, a recent ask me anything by popular scientist neil Degrasse Tyson got a staggering 4,000 comments in just a single hour (the typical total AMA by a celebrity seldom exceeds this number)

Cail Corishev said...

" on reddit , for example, a recent ask me anything by popular scientist neil Degrasse Tyson got a staggering 4,000 comments in just a single hour"

How many asked him if he's bitten off any ears lately?

Institute of Economic Understanding said...

no. most of the questions pertained to his new TV series and cosmoslogy

Anonymous said...

The wingspan ratio observation is interesting. How was data on player height and wingspan collected? Basketball player heights, at least as reported by high school and collegiate teams, are notoriously optimistic, often by an inch or two.

Anonymous said...

Marlo,

Study a bit about how natural selection works, and you'll ask yourself, "Now just what the hell made me think I was using "reason?"

Marlo said...

"Marlo. Couple things. Not that you'll notice...but...


Actually, around about the 13th century, but a technicality."

My point holds regardless. Civilization reached Sub-Saharan Africa thousands of years before it reached Northwestern Europe.

"Uh,, forgot EGYPT and CHINA. Actually, China was waaay before Ethiopia and certainly is as ancient as Sudan, but nice try."

What does China have to do with what I said? Egyptians, by the way, have a significant Sub-Saharan component. Why did their "black genes" not prevent them from creating one of the first great civilizations?

"Then IN OTHER WORDS, SINCE about 5,000 or so YEARS AGO, African societies have plateaued IQ wise and have NOT produced equivalent to oh, advances in science math government etc."

The IQ test wasn't invented until the 20th century. There's no IQ data prior to that, doofus.

"Thank you for concurring Marlo"

What?

"Now that's a lie. That is a lie. With all the trillions of dollars spent in Africa on education thru direct aid thru world bank aid etc etc in nearly 70 yrs, and still NOTHING....about time we admit when something ain't workin."

Most African countries didn't gain independence until the 60s. That's hardly 70 years. Can you count? And western aid to Africa rarely goes to education.

"Marlo,

Study a bit about how natural selection works, and you'll ask yourself, "Now just what the hell made me think I was using "reason?""

First, I know quite a bit about natural selection. Unlike the HBDers...whose belief system is based on the silly idea that "cold weather" conferred an IQ advantage to Europeans and Asians. LOL! Yet, you can't explain why the natives of Siberia, Canada and Alaska have lower IQs than Europeans. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

My proposition that blacks have a bigger IQ distribution is consistent with the FACT that there's greater genetic variance between individuals in this race, and the FACT that there's greater variation in cranial volume among this race. These are FACTS. Blacks are faster, stronger and, in many cases, smarter than whites and Asians. You can deny it all you want, but you know it's true.

P.S., pick a name other than Anonymous. Too many Anonymouses in here.

Anonymous said...

If there is a sports gene, the how can you explain Wayne Gretzkey's dominance of hockey? He had average speed, average strength, average perception. Gretzky's advantage is that he seemed to have what fighter pilots call "Situational awareness." According to other player's Gretzky always knew where the puck was going. So where did that come from?

Anonymous said...

They say race is a social construct... but could there be biological basis as to why we are likely to construct 'race' in such and such manner(as opposed to other ways)? We tend to see 'social' and 'biological' as opposites, but just as we may be hardwired to be 'spiritual', we may be hardwired to 'socially construct' certain categories.
In that sense, even if races are 'social constructs', they've been constructed by our biological underpinnings, and in that sense, the concept of 'race' is biological in origin. It would be part of sociobiology.

Some animals rely much on senses such as smell and sonar. Dogs rely as much on smell as on sight. Bats and dolphins rely on sonar.
Humans are essentially eye-sight creatures. Though we rely on other senses too, eye sight and looks are very important in how we see the world. For example, choice of sexual mates have much to do with seeing certain traits. We can say a beautiful person and ugly person is virtually identical DNA-wise and beauty is a 'social construct', but people are biologically wired to favor certain physical features over others. Thus, beauty, even if 'socially constructed', is recognized cuz we are naturally programmed to favor certain things that look appealing in a person.

And this applies to race too. The idea of 'race' connotes a sense of 'one of us' and 'not one of us'. Of 'my race' and 'not of my race'. How do people determine such things? The fact is we've been biologically hardwired to recognize certain physical features and attributes in others in determining our sense of identification and togetherness. Though such programming can be overridden through social education/indoctrination(though never fully eradicated), they do exist at the psycho-biological level. In this sense, babies are indeed born race-ist(in feeling closer to people with certain features), like homos are born homo.
And traits that are most central to us is facial type, hair type, skin color, overall body shape. Of course, our hearing is important too. Some people sound like 'one of us' wheres other people have different tones. And some people have emotions/temperaments that seem more similar to ours.

So, not every genetic trait is equal in determining how we define the sense of 'one of us' and 'not one of us.
For instance, suppose there's three people: John, Bob, and Dick.
Suppose John and Bob share 5 traits and Bob and Dick share 5 traits.

John and Bob are similar in hair type, facial type, body type, skin color, and vocal type.

In contrast, Bob and Dick are markedly different in those areas but they are similar in shape of liver, dimples on the ass, type of fingernails, size of large intestines, and moistness of armpits.

Thus one might say Bob and Dick are as similar to one another as John and Bob, and that any notion that Bob and Dick are 'racially more alike' is just a bogus 'social construct'. But the fact is humans are psycho-biologically programmed to focus more on certain traits than other traits--besides, we cannot even see the internal organs of other people.
So, the similarities between John and Bob are far more crucial in determining social identity than the similarities between Bob and Dick.

Anonymous said...

This is why the National Interest review of Painter's book totally misses the point.

http://nationalinterest.org/bookreview/of-skulls-and-buttocks-3388

It says since Mongols have moist fingertips like black Africans, it's wrong to assume they are racially closer to Japanese. Because Mongolia is dry like Africa--whereas Japan is very humid--, it could be the terrain has favored moister skin. But in most outward traits that can be psycho-biologically recognized by normal cognition, a Japanese is far more likely to see a Mongol as closer to his kind that a West African or any kind of African. Though one may note certain physical differences between Mongols and Japanese--like between Germans and Russians--, from a psycho-biological viewpoint that favors eyesight(as humans are relatively weaker in other areas and we don't have x-ray eyes or sonar to check the innards of others), a Mongol and Japanese are likely to feel more closer to one another than with blacks. Mongols have been dominating sumo for some time, but they sort of melt in and don't seem really alien. But when Konishiki, Akebono, and Musashimaru the Hawaiians used to dominate, they really did make Sumo look very different.

It may be a 'social construct' to favor certain traits over others in determining 'one of us' and 'not one of us', but the fact is our psychology has been biologically programmed to favor certain traits over others. I mean suppose a John and Bob have similar noses and Bob and Dick have similar rectums. Which feature, nose shape or rectum shape, is gonna matter more in the psycho-socio-biological determination of 'one of us' or 'not one of us'? So, even though one can socially construct a community based on rectum-shape as well as on nose-shape, the latter simply comes more naturally since eye-centric humans tend to be more nose-identifying than rectum-identifying... unless this is one's main occupation in life.

PS. As for Nazis with their silly skull-measuring, I think it turned into parody of race because Nazis weren't so interested in differences among broad groups--whites, blacks, Asians, etc--as among whites. As Nazi war ambitions were mainly within Europe itself and since most Germans, Poles, and white Russians looked more or less similar, Germans had to be very finicky in looking for the more 'finer' details of race. You don't need to skull measurer to tell the differences among whites, Asians, blacks, and etc. I mean the differences are so obvious to the eye. But among whites, since most Germans, Poles, and white Russians didn't look all that different, Nazis had to dig up some silly stuff about forehead shape and etc. Ridiculous.

gubbler of the church of reformed chechenism said...

"First of all, (West African) blacks are fast, but they are not particularly strong."

Cut the crap out. Just look at the muscles on these Negroes. They look like they can tear you a new arsehole.

WarLord said...

"Cut the crap out. Just look at the muscles on these Negroes. They look like they can tear you a new arsehole."

Lower levels of subcutaneous fat have never lifted any barbell.

hbd chick said...

The Books Interview: David Epstein