Saturday, 27 August 2011

Is it wrong to note 100m winners are always black? [BBC]

Is it wrong to note 100m winners are always black?

The conclusions that are drawn from black athletes dominating the 100m final go a long way to explaining attitudes in wider society, argues Matthew Syed.

The 100m final at the World Athletics Championships this weekend will be won by a black athlete.

Every winner of the 100m since the inaugural event in 1983 has been black, as has every finalist from the last 10 championships with the solitary exception of Matic Osovnikar of Slovenia, who finished seventh in 2007.

Assuming that this success is driven by genes rather than environment, there is a rather obvious inference to make - black people are naturally better sprinters than white people. Indeed, it is an inference that seems obligatory, barring considerations of political correctness.

Logically flawed

But here's the thing. This inference is not merely false - it is logically flawed. And it has big implications not merely for athletics, but for the entire issue of race relations in the 21st Century.

To see how, let us examine success not in the sprints but in distance running, for this is also dominated by black athletes. Kenya has won an astonishing 63 medals at the Olympic Games in races of 800m and above, 21 of them gold, since 1968. Little wonder that one commentator once described distance running as "a Kenyan monopoly".

But it turns out that it is not Kenya as a whole that usually wins these medals, but individuals from a tiny region in the Rift Valley called Nandi. As one writer put it: "Most of Kenya's runners call Nandi home."

Seen in this context, the notion that black people are naturally superior distance runners seems bizarre. Far from being a "black" phenomenon, or even a Kenyan phenomenon, distance running is actually a Nandi phenomenon. Or, to put it another way, "black" distance running success is focused on the tiniest of pinpricks on the map of Africa, with the vast majority of the continent underrepresented.

The same analysis applies to the sprints, where success is focused on Jamaicans and African-Americans. Africa, as a continent, has almost no success at all. Not even West Africans win much.

The combined forces of Mauritania, Guinea-Bissau, Sierra Leone, the Republic of Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Niger, Benin, Mali, the Gambia, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Gabon, Senegal, Congo and Angola have not won a single sprinting medal at the Olympics or World Championships.

The fallacy, then, is simple. Just because some black people are good at something does not imply that black people in general will be good at it.

Labelled box

Imagine a similar argument using the Central African Bambuti, a black tribe more commonly known as Pygmies. With an average height of 4ft we could assert that the Bambuti are naturally better at walking under low doors. Would it be legitimate to extrapolate that black people in general have a natural advantage at walking under low doors?

Our tendency to generalise rests on a deeper fallacy - the idea that "black" refers to a genetic type. We put people of dark skin in a box labelled black and assume that a trait shared by some is shared by all.

The truth is rather different. There is far more genetic variation within racial groups (around 85%) than there is between racial groups (just 15%). Indeed, surface appearance is often a highly misleading way of assessing the genetic distance between populations.

This evidence demonstrates how absurd it is to engage in racial generalisations - how crazy it is to witness a tiny group of black people winning at, say, the 10,000m and to infer that all people who share the same skin colour share an aptitude for 10,000m running.

But our subconscious assumptions about race have more than merely sporting implications.

Consider an experiment by Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, two American economists. They drafted 5,000 CVs and placed archetypal "black" names such as Tyrone or Latoya on half of them and "white" names such as Brendan or Alison on the other half. They then divided the white CVs into high and low quality and did the same with the black CVs.

A few weeks later the offers came rolling in from employers, and guess what? The "black" candidates were 50% less likely to be invited to interview. Employers were using skin colour as a marker for employment potential, despite the fact that the candidates' CVs were identical.

But that's not all. The researchers also found that although high-quality "white" candidates were preferred to low-quality "white" candidates, the relative quality of "black" CVs made no difference whatsoever.

It was as if employers saw three categories - high-quality white, low-quality white and black candidates. To put it another way, the subliminal assumption that causes us to think that black people are all the same has powerful real-world consequences.

For many economists, this assumption, which gets under the radar of our conscious thought, explains why black people still lag behind white people in economic development more than four decades after the introduction of race-relations legislation.

Recognising that we have these biases is a good place to start in trying to combat them. And a good way of tracking progress is to watch a 100m final and see whether we fall into the trap, when seeing eight contestants with black skin, of inferring that black people are naturally better sprinters.

Matthew Syed is the author of Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice



socrates said...

Kenyans always seem to win the Boston Marathon. I don't think it's because of genes. I think it's because of climate and social structure. African-Americans dominate American basketball. That could be mostly due to economics. Now certainly genetics plays a role inlife. Mexicans tend to have broad chests due to the oxygen composition. Irish tend to be pale due to lack of sun. But to take these examples and apply it to intelligence, that is where this type of conjecture falls completely apart.

socrates said...

TLNL. check out the latest coment gadget I added to DFQ2. I can probably find you the link to add it here. It takes one click.

socrates said...

Sorry for typos. My only excuse is it's very muggy as we await a potential hurricane probable tropical storm.

Real Truth Online said...

Obama would know about that, since he's Kenyan.

socrates said...

Dude, why don't you just go away? If this is such a lame blog in your opinion, why are you here?

socrates said...

Wingnut conspiracy freaks are boring.

the_last_name_left said...

The majority of sports people come from the masses? Not in motorsports, for instance, because it's expensive. Only one black driver in F1...ever...for instance SFAIK.

Tennis has always been class-conscious in UK.....we've no depth in top tennis.

So, y, economics/class is surely the major determinant. High-paying, easily-accessible sports attract talented poor people......and that's the largest pool of talent, I guess. Football for example is huge in S America and Africa - only needs a ball of some sort.

The fascinating and counter-intuitive part is the genetics: there's greater differences within 'race' than between verious 'races'.

A white guy can be more similar to a black guy than to another white guy. I suspect this is a bit ambiguous though, because of a lack of knowledge about genes. But still, it must reasonably put on hold any racial theory....not that the racist would care, mind you.

It seems a very simple but profound change in perception is needed if we consider race a social construct rather than anything innate. It's so deeply entrenched isn't it?

socrates said...

It seems a very simple but profound change in perception is needed if we consider race a social construct rather than anything innate. It's so deeply entrenched isn't it?

We are in agreement with the nulk of this topic.

A basketball costs next to nothing. There are open courts all over the place. They can improve on their game in their spare time. They can excel on their school teams, which will give them some access to university scholarships. College basketball is big business. Once players make it there, they are only one step away from making millions in the NBA.

Ice hockey, on the other hand, requires a good chunk of money to participate. There is all that equipment to buy. Ice rinks are needed.

A look at the Kenyans, perhaps they do well at marathon running because they do not have the transportation systems of wealthier countries. Thus they are forced to do plenty of walking and running and build up stamina which will help long distance runners in later competition.

Where I don't agree with you is that it's a strong jump for these truths to be agreed on by masses of people. Only the uneducated will think there is a relationship between genetics and intelligence.

The Brits used to think the Irish were savages. They sent many to the Caribbean as slaves. They basically had the same genetics. The only difference was history. Race may be the easiest of differences to see in humans next to male and female, but it is not a necessary condition for oppression to fester.

The wingnuts are a very small minorty. They will never understand what you are trying to accomplish through this thread, because it is fixated on freaky conspiracy theories.

Hence, it may not be merely trolling. It may actually believe it's appropriate to stick the birther crap into this dialogue.

socrates said...

I'm going to have to force myself to proofread. I see I wrote nulk instead of bulk. Ugh. I promise to start proofreading more.

Real Truth Online said...

"wingnut conspiracy freaks" huh?

But can you explain these two links?:



Let me didn't even click them?


socrates said...

What a joke. Someone could link to a supermarket tabloid saying Elvis had a love child with Elizabeth Taylor. It doesn't make it true. Obama was born in Hawaii. There is only so much time in a day. That is why rubbish like this proves what I said about there not being much if any need to feed conspiracy theory freaks. They debunk themselves without any help. If you're going to equate the JFK Assassination topic with Obama's birthplace, you might as well link to a source claiming the moon is made out of cheese.

the_last_name_left said...

So, is this about Obama's legitimacy because he's black?

Or just because kenya was mentioned?

My diagnosis - Larry is tangential.......due to obsession.

Real Truth Online said...

"What a joke. Someone could link to a supermarket tabloid saying Elvis had a love child with Elizabeth Taylor. It doesn't make it true."

But the article in the first link was written in 2004, 3 years before Obama even RAN for Prez. What possible reason could a writer in 2004 have had for making up Obama was Kenyan-born when there was NO knowledge his birthplace would be a national issue 3 years later?

"So, is this about Obama's legitimacy because he's black?"

He's HALF black.

Why is someone who appears to be black always deemed 100% BLACK even if they have one white parent, but a person who looks white is always called MIXED when they have one white parent? Why are they never deemed "WHITE"?

socrates said...

TLNL: So, is this about Obama's legitimacy because he's black?

Or just because kenya was mentioned?

My diagnosis - Larry is tangential.......due to obsession

It's obsession. He's not "trolling" on purpose. It's as if he has a bit of asperger's syndrome. He is oblivious to what others are saying or feeling, or that they may not appreciate his hijacking of threads nor his anti-social outbursts.

Just look at how he put two of our quotes together and then tried to make it seem we are the same person. I don't think he's being a troll. He's obviously got a low iq and poor social skills.

If only he didn't act the arse role so often. His conspiracy freakiness could be a good read for kicks. But since he gets nasty so often, he's not worth a drop in the ocean.

It's not really about Obama's race. It's more to do with a perceived line of ascension from Bush-Cheney to Obama. Of course such thinking draws in white supremacists and other twits, and there definitely is a race variable. Blacks certainly do vote in high numbers for Democrats. While rednecks tend to votw Republican and are rarely Uncle Toms.

This is a specific brand of wingnut. He's into Rense, Rivero, illuminati and other nonsense websites.

It'd be pitiful, something perhaps to help him work through. Unfortunately he has that gutter mouth. Worse than that for me is his consistency in being irrational.

I can't believe he is still pushing this birther nonsense.

Is it a shock many refuse to read those supermarket tabloids? It shouldn't be a surprise that some like me would want nothing to do with this person, his ideas, anything, period, you know what I'm saying, like a there I said it without a question mark at the end.

socrates said...

Oops, I misread Larry's post. I guess he wasn't calling us sock puppets in his last one, though he did do that before. He is definitely being tangential and off-topic nearly every time I read his posts. It's very tiresome. Just think TLNL of people who might post here if he left. Maybe just ignore him. Though if you think there's a point to it, it's your bloody blog. Oops again. Sorry for cursing. p:>

the_last_name_left said...

Rather I meant Larry bringing the Obama thing up on this thread. It's about race, yet Larry is on about Obama's legitimacy.

If you are sure race doesn't have anything to do with your issues over Obama's legitimacy, Larry, STFU here about it?

This not a thread about Obama's legitimacy. Continue and you'll be deleted.

socrates said...

I see your point, TLNL. Obama has nothing to do with this topic.

socrates said...

I'm finally clicking those boxes to be notified of follow-up comments. It makes things a whole lot easier. Before, I had to remember what the post counts were on each thread or click to see if anything new got added. Now I can just check my email. For all of blogger's deficiencies, this is a good tool.

the_last_name_left said...

y, click the boxes and get emails. :D Gets a bit much when certain people go crazy and spam 80 messages.....but well.

M said...

Different geographic and cultural environments favour different physical and mental traits. So you get a different prevalence of traits across diverse populations.

Jon Entine wrote a book about human biodiversity in the context of sports.

the_last_name_left said...

hi, and thanks M