Weird BBC Olympics eugenics film

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Aug 10 2012 13:56
Weird BBC Olympics eugenics film

Utterly bizarre conjecture. I mean I guess it's just another pop-Darwinian just-so story (a la 'girls prefer pink because of foraging for berries'), but just really odd.

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Aug 10 2012 14:14

In the tradition of BBC balance, this article is much better.

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Aug 10 2012 14:39

Love the caveat at the end. Black runners are all genetic mutants who's ancestors won the survival of the fittest during slavery. All other sports and 'races' will be summed up in a ten second montage of 'unpredictable mystery'.

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Aug 10 2012 15:00

Looking up the gene they were talking about, whitey is the mutant. A brief scan of the linked studies doesn't show anything close to the weird slavery just-so story though (in theory a population bottleneck could produce genetic variation i think; but why atlantic passage/slavery would select for fast-twitching lower stamina skeletal muscles i've no idea. if anything you'd think stamina would be more important in this particular just-so line of reasoning...).

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Aug 10 2012 15:03

It's easy

English have the best equestrian genes
Irish have the best hurling genes

If anyone's intersted, read David Shenk's The genius in all of us, great empirical takedown of all sorts of nonsense genetic throwaway explanations for nations' relative success in different sports.

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Aug 10 2012 15:35

Michael Johnson did a documentary on Channel 4 on similar lines as well, arguing that the dominance of West and East Africans in sprinting and middle distance running can be traced back to how they were treated on slave plantations. I never was good at science, hated it at school. Although I am a bit more interested now.

Did anyone else see the Johnson documentary, and/or know of any good articles discussing this thesis.

(ps - my interest in this is that I used to be a middle distance runner)

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Aug 10 2012 16:35

What they fail to mention is that culturally athletics, particularly track, is HUGE in Jamaica, it fills stadiums in a way that it would never here, it's on a par with soccer, despite not being 'professional' as such.

It's amazing that people jump to genetic conclusions for a sport like this, but no one does it for basketball, american football ('AMERICANS MUST BE GENETICALLY GIFTED AT AMERICAN FOOTBALL')
On the flipside, no one looks for a genetic explanation for why some countries do SHITE at certain sports.

Why are certain sports selected for these genetic 'just-so' stories?
Why not wind-surfing? Why not event showjumping?

One event, in addition to sprinting, that gets this is long-distance running. But there's a saying from Shenk's book:
"How can we stop the kenyans from winning at the olympic marathon?
Get them better public transport"

It's somewhat flippant, but the book documents studies of the cultural aspect in countries like Kenya where lack of transport often means running to and from school, the shops etc etc
It's a really interesting book and a refreshing antidote to the lazy determinism of genetic explanations for national sporting achievement variation.

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Aug 10 2012 16:39

I'd also like to mention the KARATE GENE that the japanese have
The CATCH-WRESTLING GENE that carneys have
The CORNISH WRESTLING GENE that the cornish have.
The AUSSIE RULES and CRIME GENE that australians have.

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Aug 10 2012 16:45

A quick google and wiki search reveals that "Most Jamaican schools have an athletics program in the curriculum, so Jamaican children are into athletics at a young age" - which simply isn't the case in 'most' schools here. My last school had no athletics team whatsoever, and generally poor sprost provision... and guess what, they didn't do very well in the sports they didn't bother training in.

I'll actually try and write something more detailed on this next week as I've quite a few decent sources and there's been a few decent radio docs about nations & sports recently, and I meant to but never got round to it.

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Aug 10 2012 17:03
Choccy wrote:
Why are certain sports selected for these genetic 'just-so' stories?
Why not wind-surfing? Why not event showjumping?

Actually I was watching coverage of the Olympics on RTE (Irish national broadcaster), they had a panelist on who was saying that the Irish gov't should chuck money into track cycling like Britain has because the British and Irish are scientifically prone in their make up to be good track cyclists! I shit you not. He said this 'science' was the reason the Brits chucked money into track cycling after their first gold at 1992. I read somewhere recently that there is some form of schools talent programme in this sport in UK, so that probably is much closer to the mark. In subsequent comments Johnson has become a bit more nuanced pointing to these social factors as well.

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Aug 10 2012 17:00

You are winding me up!! wink

Pretty much any country that puts any decent amount of money, into any sport, will do decent in that sport.

I mean really, there's a reason that mostly white posh cunts won medals in equestrianism, archery, shooting, boating etc - wealth, access to land and highly specialist expensive equipment.

The problem with sports like RUNNING and BOXING is that EVEN THE POOR CAN ACCESS THEM!

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Aug 10 2012 17:04

That said, clearly you can't JUST buy success, you usually need some sort of cultural base to build of off - hence the US has struggled to make a soccer a mass sport despite lots of investment in school and college soccer and even the attempts at professionalism in the 1970s - but the failure of a lot of professional initiatives to take off. Though I understand their female soccer team does well internationally, and to be fair the men are still qualifying for world cups and so on.

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Aug 10 2012 18:03

They ran it about 20 mins after the Black Power salute incident in Mexico in '68. Both seemed out of place but prolly some BBC Reithein type of intervention. It was as pop as any other science prog on the subject...

Find the nature/nuture debate quite tiresome tbh... And both have their dangerous sides...

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Aug 10 2012 18:13

To be fair straight after they showed it Denise Lewis pretty much smacked it down, making the same point as Choccy above about the popularity of sprinting in Jamaica. The discussion afterwards was decent actually, very unusual to have intelligent sports pundits on the BBC, Christ knows how Alan Shearer would have responded.

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Aug 10 2012 18:28

This may already have been mentioned in this thread (I haven't read every post yet)but years ago I recall hearing or reading an attempt at a sociological explanation for why African-Americans excel at certain running sports. The explanation went something like this: Black Americans were impatient with the slow progress of equal rights and so channeled their impatience through sports that personify the need to hurry onto their desired goal.

To me that always seemed like a very superficial explanation (like the pseudo-scientific claim of genetic adaptation).

It would seem to me that the entire gamut of human physical characteristics and potential is present in all people, regardless of ethnicity. Where certain negative features dominate over others, such as diabetes, sickle-cell anemia, etc., it is usually explained as a result of the excessive concentration of specific human gene pools. For example, Polynesian peoples are said to be especially susceptible to certain form of diabetes; Some populations in Greece and Africa are likewise affected by sickle-cell anemia in higher percentages, etc.; Autism and other mental disorders are said to be more prevalent among isolated populations, especially among those who intermarry such as the Amish in Pennsylvania.

One classic example of this is the prevalence of hemophilia among families like the Romanov, who persistently married among their own.

The genetic variation among Americans of African descent is enormous, I think, and helps to dispel the notion that their apparent athletic superiority is the result of natural selection.

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Aug 10 2012 18:51

But if there was a genetic propensity within one group or other at what point does it matter and WHY does it matter. I mean there is no problematisation of people from sub saharan Africa having the greater physical propensity to blast Malaria (via gene that gives rise to sickle cell) only when physical characteristics (perceived or otherwise) come up against abilities or states of being that are held dear (often by the State) that the discourse becomes absolutely bloated with politics.

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Aug 10 2012 19:45
Mr. Jolly wrote:
But if there was a genetic propensity within one group or other at what point does it matter and WHY does it matter. I mean there is no problematisation of people from sub saharan Africa having the greater physical propensity to blast Malaria (via gene that gives rise to sickle cell) only when physical characteristics (perceived or otherwise) come up against abilities or states of being that are held dear (often by the State) that the discourse becomes absolutely bloated with politics.

You make a good point.

Also, we shouldn't forget the question of nutrition and types of training available to people who compete in sports.

It's undeniable that certain sports require certain physical attributes that are the inevitable result of natural selection but it's just as true that the final "natural" selectors in human competition are the coach, the trainer and the referee.

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Aug 10 2012 21:54

I am not at all suggesting we do not tlk about genetics, ffs I am a biology teacher wink
I am however, dismayed with the willingness with which genetic explanation for both national and 'ethnic' variations in sporting success is lazily accepted.

It annoys me that in certain cases, but not others, it's seen as the reasonable default explanation, while talking about complex historical, social and cultural reasons is 'messy' and 'complicated' or even 'political' - as if genetic explanations are somehow neutral.

Sickle cell is a poor comparator. There is only one explanation that we know of for sickle cell - it is a recessive genetic disorder that conveyed a selective advantage in certain equatorial regions (particulary sub-saharan/central africa) as it conferred protection from malaria - it's downside came to possessors of two recessive genes (homozygous recessive, common notation ss) who end up with full-blown sickle cell anemia.

Sprint speed is obviously not due to a single gene in this way, but rather a combination of complex social, historical, cultural, economic and of course, individual factors.

Again, I'd urge people to read Shenk's book - the case studies he mentions of those that excel in any number of different fields could be thought of unique combinations of all of these factors above - AND SHITLOADS OF FUCKING DELIBERATE PRACTICE AND HARD-WORK, albeit facilitated by those unique factors.

I still don't see people leaping to genetic explanations for Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing - perhaps he has a genetic predisposition to finger dexterity.
And why is it that almost exclusively white, posh, public school, Oxbridge twats make it into elite political office in the UK? Perhaps a genetic predisposition to 'making the tough decisions'? I'd imagine they'd have a fairly fuckin shallow gene pool anyway, what with only breeding with other posh white public school cunts.

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Aug 10 2012 22:11

And Ireland, an island (FULL 32-COUNTY NATIONALISM*) of about 5.5mil is top of the boxing medal table at this Olympic, and historically always does well.
The only explanation is the HARD AS FUCK GENE obviously.

* whole island needs considered as most northern boxers, even protestants like Wayne McCullough, competed for Ireland and not GB

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Aug 10 2012 22:22
Choccy wrote:
And Ireland, an island (FULL 32-COUNTY NATIONALISM*) of about 5.5mil is top of the boxing medal table at this Olympic, and historically always does well.
The only explanation is the HARD AS FUCK GENE obviously.

* whole island needs considered as most northern boxers, even protestants like Wayne McCullough, competed for Ireland and not GB

Looks like Aussie paper beat you to that stereotype on this.

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Aug 10 2012 22:38

Maybe there IS something in these lazy stereotypes after all!

and Partybucket reminded me of the content of one of the Radio 4 documentaries about this - the kenyans had a influential irish Christian Brother, Colm O'Connell, who had set up their long distance programme (at least the documentary gave him a lot of credit, I can't comment on whether he was an influential as they claimed). Also the geographical important of how high above sea level many of them live and train day in day out.

Now, genetic variation in mountainous regions has conferred a higher oxygen-carrying capacity in certain populations - but this is not sufficient to explain Kenyan long-distance success, if it were, certain Nepalese and Tibetan populations should be smashing long distance records too.
Also worth noting that any individual 'tribe' or local population in areas in Kenya and surrounding countries are often as genetically distinct from each other as they are non african populations - the 'cradle of humanity' has the most genetic variation of anywhere on the earth.

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Aug 10 2012 22:41
Choccy wrote:
I still don't see people leaping to genetic explanations for Eddie Van Halen's guitar playing - perhaps he has a genetic predisposition to finger dexterity.
And why is it that almost exclusively white, posh, public school, Oxbridge twats make it into elite political office in the UK? Perhaps a genetic predisposition to 'making the tough decisions'? I'd imagine they'd have a fairly fuckin shallow gene pool anyway, what with only breeding with other posh white public school cunts.

BUT the reason why sport rather that guitar playing is such a focus for nature/nurture is that it is intrinsically linked esp at national level with the state, to the supremacy and health of that state.... There may be a genetic component to guitar noodling, but it doesn't have a biopolitical aspect to it.

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Aug 10 2012 22:58

What? Popular art, music, film has always been potentially co-opted into concepts of nationhood. I was using a flippant example of Van Halen and I wouldn't suggest Eddie shredding is as easily co-opted as others, but absolutely there has been a link between music, and other popular art, and the state.

Quote:
There may be a genetic component to guitar noodling

There may... but what is a more likely explanation? And why aren't these other explanations entertained as readily as the GENETIC ones for the sports on question?

Why genes for sprinting but not aussie rules football?

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Aug 10 2012 23:01

Individual vs collective?

Edit: Dunno ^^^

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Aug 10 2012 23:12

But the jamaicans are also the best team, and win the 100m relay too.
And humans clearly have a genetic capacity for co-operation and sociality, pretty much why no one can survive alone - so why not start attributing 'great teams' with 'high levels of genetically determined sociality'?

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Aug 10 2012 23:14

As the epitome of the species the exemplar of the nation personified?

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Aug 10 2012 23:16

Soviet and Fascist imagry had the toiling classes usually represented by strong fit individuals....

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Aug 10 2012 23:48

Jimi Hendrix had better guitar genes than Van Halen. wink

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Aug 10 2012 23:53

and, of course, not to mention the English penalty shootout gene laugh out loud

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Aug 11 2012 01:08

Fuck, I would have hoped sickle cell anaemia would would not have come come up on these boards because IT ACTUALLY PROVES NOTHING ABOUT SPORTING PROWESS.

'er, there is some race shit we want to prove, there is a sickle cell* thingy that roughly [though not in any accurate way, what, after all, is a 'race'] corresponds to a race, ergo there are 'races'. For fuck sake. The whole thing is fallacious from the start. I meant my initial comment as a bit of a joke, but really? The whole basis of this conversation is fallacious, everything bought up in this thread is absolute codswallop. As is any attempt at racial science. There is a simple rule which to my mind has yet to be seriously challenged (and 'greece' 'africa'** are homage to this) there is more similarities between so called 'races' than there are individuals within the 'races', 'populations' etc, etc.

This is what I find so interesting about science, and racial science is where you get a full grasp of this, no matter how complex 'science' gets, it will still become a victim to socio-political moron-ism without a properly recognised social, political and cultural base.

* As if one specific case can then be generalized and made to produce an idea of a 'population' that confers any other knowledge past the specificity of sickle cell.

** lets not beat around the fucking bush, 'african' is a nice way of saying non-differentiated 'blackness'.

++ Lets also ignore the massive 'racial' mixing in the Caribbean. Black slaves fraternising with white masters and their women, indentured asian labour (of the south and eastern variety) etc, etc. As people that pay attention to history this whole thread should be in libcommunity....

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Aug 11 2012 06:25

Well yes, hence the point that any two randomly chosen within a place like Kenya are as genetically similar to each other as they are independently to a randomly-chosen european - ie not fitting the standards racial category of 'black' at all, forming so many 'black' populations, which when coupled with gene-flow (the mixing you speaking of) render the categories meaningless.

Also, the Syed article says a lot of that in different words essentially - there is no 'black' in pure simple biological 'race' terms - it's an entirely arbitrary biological assignment based on a solitary superficial feature that only takes on meaning when a social discourse around 'race' is constructed.