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am 10. Februar 2000
Jon Entine infers - correctly I think - that the overwhelming representation of blacks among elite sprinters and distance runners is primarily due to an ethnically conferred genetic advantage. The conclusion while not rigorously scientific is nonetheless compelling. The danger - which he strenuously attempts to debunk - is that this is frequently construed as primae facie evidence of a more "bestial" nature in blacks and by inference a feeble intellect. It is interesting that the widely held belief in black athletic superiority is recent, and arose only AFTER barriers to black participation in sports were removed. Even then black dominance has been most evident in sports requiring little financial outlays for equipment. In otherwords, there is still an unquantified economic dimension to performance.
Musicality - deemed a "natural" black trait - has been demonstrated as correlating highly with mathematical ability, at least in caucasians. One wonders if access to superior educational opportunities generally limited by the widespread poverty among blacks has been responsible for the lack of a "black mathematical elite".
Using Mr Entine's logic, it is in fact possible that whites are on average more intelligent - say taking as a statistic the number of caucasian nobel prize winners - Unfortunately, that yardstick has undeniable subjective elements and lacks the same "purity" as a sprint race. Sadly most of the purportedly scholarly tomes on the subject (The Bell Curve for example) turn out to be strongly biased racist polemic.
One hopes that Mr Entine's book will engender dialogue and disinterested inquiry into our genetic diversity.
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am 30. April 2000
What is so disturbing about Mr. Entines book is that he has no scientific background in this matter. He is a journalist and television reporter with apparently little or no science background. Richard Wright III writes in his book IN DEFENSE OF ELITISM, "talent, achievement, practice and learning no longer command deference. Everybody is a star." In other words, everyone feels they have an equally valid opinion on subjects they are unqualified to comment on. This is particularly dangerous in this case because Mr. Entine is obviously in a powerful position in the American mass media where the espousal of ideas is easily at his fingertips. Mr Entine has suddenly become "a scientist" to many people by the fact that he has the means to convey his "scientific" views. A gentleman named Torsten Wiesel commented in a speech with regards to THE BELL CURVE, (a similiar piece of work to TABOO) "books like this are extremely dangerous." However, Mr. Wiesel's stance will be heard by very few as he does not have the means (or probably the desire) to address the mass media. Mr Wiesel is the 1981 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology as well as the former president of Rockeller University.
am 24. Mai 2000
I have no particular quarrel with Entine's hypothesis that individuals from different populations have innate abilities that make them able to excel in certain sports, and that both cultural and social factors seem to enhance these abilities. He certainly presents an overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence in support of his position. In fact, one of my problems with the book is its repetitiveness. Entine tells us something, then he tells us what he has told us, then he presents charts graphs, and maps to illustrate what he has told us, then he summarises, being sure to reiterate what he has already told us.
A case in point East Africans (particularly Kenyans) dominate in endurance racing. He tells us they dominate, then he gives us statistics outlining the events in which they dominate and the number of records they hold, then he shows the same information in charts and graphs. He then follows up with detailed biographies of several Kenyan runners, tracing each of their lives from childhood through championship years and, in some cases, through retirement and death. Enough, Entine, you've made your point.
He digresses, discussing the personalities of various black athletes had on racial relations. He digresses further and discusses Anti-Semitism, Naziism, the Civil Rights Movement, etc. He does make tenuous tie-ins between these subjects and the main thrust of his book, but the book would not have suffered if a lot of this material had been edited out.
My overall reaction to Entine's book was that it was a Master's Thesis gone awry. By this I mean that there was enough material for a Thesis but that it had been expanded with repetitious and extraneous material that dulled the impact of its main theme.
To end with a paraphrase of an old adage: It's too bad that Entine didn't throw out the baby with the bathwater. I think the baby is worth keeping.
am 23. Januar 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.)
am 15. Januar 2000
The physical superiority of athletes of primarily West African-descent in basketball, football, and sprinting is so obvious that no one has been allowed to write about it at length. Fortunately, Jon Entine has broken the taboo.
Many people in positions of power in the media simply refuse to let certain questions about sports be aired because they already know what the only reasonable answers are. The most forbidden involve racial differences. For example, in the last four Olympics all 32 finalists in the men's 100 meters, the race to decide The Fastest Man on Earth, have been black men of West African descent. Since people of West African origin make up roughly 8% of the world's population, the chance of this happening purely by luck is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000001%. As the Olympic running races have become a more equal-opportunity competition, the results have become more segregated. Why?
The conventional explanation is that discrimination keeps blacks out of more desirable professions, forcing them into athletics, where they succeed only because fear of falling back into poverty makes them train desperately hard. Yet, consider running. In America whites and Mexican-Americans dominate the distance events, which require endless roadwork. In contrast, African-Americans monopolize the sprints, which call for the shortest work-week of any major sport. For example, while preparing to win four gold medals in the Los Angeles Olympics, Carl Lewis worked out an average of eight hours per week (not per day, but per week). Nor does poverty explain the career of the current World's Fastest Man, Donovan Bailey, who didn't get serious about sprinting until he'd made so much money as a stock broker that he'd already bought himself a house and a Porsche-in cash.
Elite writers and editors believe it's best to block average sports fans from noticing black domination because it threatens the orthodoxy that all groups must be equal in all ways. It's best to keep us oblivious to the obvious. As well-intentioned as this journalistic cover-up may be, it suffers one flaw: it doesn't work. Fans don't have to read about black superiority, they see it for themselves round the clock on ESPN, and discuss it endlessly in every sports bar in America.
Sadly, barroom blather has its limits for improving our understanding of race. And that's the real problem with trying to airbrush this fascinating topic out of the press. The taboo certainly doesn't slow down those whites who merely want to believe that since blacks are more athletic, then whites must be more intelligent, end of story. The good news is that there's more to the story. The bad news is it's not getting heard.
Not only do black sports triumphs often begin with physical advantages over other races, they also often stem in part from what appear to be common black mental superiorities over whites and Asians in improvisational decision-making (e.g., think of Magic Johnson directing a fast break or Miles Davis leading a quintet). Unfortunately, the current dogma of absolute equality puts blacks in a no-win position: any evidence of any innate racial disparity threatens to bring down the current theory, but blacks are not allowed to cite the abundant evidence for black superiority in many skills. When morality conflicts with the facts, you can either close your eyes-for a while-to the facts, or you can try to find a better, more useful morality.
In the course of my research, I have been surprised to discover that there is an enormous genre of tomes bearing titles like Sports, Race, and Gender. College professors write scores of these books each years (and dozens of people buy them). These tomes judge the reality of sports by the theories of academia and find-you'll be shocked, shocked to learn this-that sports fail to live up to the expectations of multicultural sensitivity.
For example, today far more African-American Major League Baseball players are likely to be outfielders than catchers. This is cited as proof of a nefarious plot by management to "racially stack" blacks. A few simple questions might occur, however, to anybody who is not a professional social scientist:
Why would the white-male power structure reserve for itself the really fun job of crouching for hours, getting dinged by foul tips, and flattened by baserunners? Speaking of the "tools of ignorance," isn't it a cliché of Little League movies like The Bad News Bears that it's always the poor fat kid who gets stuck with catching? Why would teams want to lose games by misusing their players? Since playing the outfield is mostly running down flyballs, and catching is mostly squatting, maybe blacks play the outfield more because they tend to be faster? But, that's just not the point, now is it? We aren't supposed to ask tough questions for which we don't already possess prefabricated answers like Racism! Sexism! Stereotypes! In contrast, the reality of sports helps to assess the reigning theories of how the world works. (Short answer: they don't work.) In truth, the multiculturalists raise many fascinating issues that the rest of us need to come to grips with. This does not mean, however, that the evidence cited by the multiculturalists actually supports their dogmas. In fact, an in-depth examination generally leads to insights 180 degrees from their smug premises. Yet, neither will all conservatives be comfortable with some of these new perspectives on human nature.
For example, what about those racial disparities by position in big-league baseball? The politically correct are likely to deplore it, and the politically incorrect to ignore it. But doing some thinking about it raises a new, more interesting issue: Go back far enough into the bad old days and these differences in positions played disappear. In other words, we find, once again, that integration has lead to segregation of roles. For example, during Jackie Robinson's era (1947-1956), five black Brooklyn Dodgers won the Most Valuable Player or Rookie of the Year awards. Oddly, they each played one of the three positions least frequented by African-Americans today:
Catcher: Roy Campanella Pitcher: Don Newcombe, Joe Black Utility Infielder: Jackie Robinson, Junior Gilliam And, of course, if you go back to the Negro Leagues, blacks were represented in all the positions in perfect proportion. When blacks weren't allowed to play with whites, they were trained to fill all nine positions. In today's integrated game, they specialize in positions where their competitive advantages in speed and power are most valuable, and competition from whites and Mexicans is weakest. Of course, once you recognize that in sports desegregation often leads to racial specialization in jobs, you'll also notice it elsewhere. For example, the radical increase in the diversity of American society in recent decades due to integration and immigration appears to have had the unintended consequence of nearly obliterating the African-American shopkeeper class. Beyond that, it leads to a new perspective on affirmative action. Are quotas necessary to prevent re-segregation? Or is specialization the key to economic progress, and all quotas do is lure blacks into fields where they don't possess comparative advantages over whites?
am 24. Juni 2000
This is a tough book to review, so many positives and negatives. I give this book strong marks for "fairly" addressing the taboo of black sports superiority. He cites other books which had "hidden" agendas and sounds believable that he is not supportive of that agenda.
But the book had obvious weakness. He early in the books states his general thesis. I kept waiting for more in-depth knowledge supporting his position but frankly it was not forthcoming.
The second part of the book discussed evolution in depth which I found very boring. But immediately after this, there were great discussions about the history of black sports in America as well as race relations in that period. During this section, Jewish domination of basketball in the 40s-50s was discussed which I found interesting as I had no knowledge of this.
The book moved into the last section which I expected to be a conclusion with more in-depth support. Unfortunately, it was not forthcoming, only a general repeat as stated in the first section.
From the breakdowns of the sections above, you can see I found some parts of the book interesting and some quite boring. But the more I thought of this book, the more I realized it did provide a valuable function; to make you think about a "taboo" subject. For presenting a controversial subject in an unbiased manner and generating thought, I have to give this book reasonably high marks. Some people will hate this book and some will love it. But maybe, more importantly, it provided a balanced view of a difficult subject for the majority of readers to draw their own conclusions.
am 30. Januar 2000
I really appreciate people who poke holes in the ridiculous idea that all people are simply a function of their environment, or that since within group variation is greater than between group variation, group distinctions are meaningless. Such egalitarian idiocy has stifled honest investigation into interesting and obvious patterns for too long. I really liked the author's style, in that he writes to be understood, not to show off or to impress academics (i.e., he's not above bringing in the 'dogs have races' argument that everyone can understand, even if this isn't a kosher proof). It will be interesting to see if Entine has a future, that is, if the world is ready to interpret such views as reasonable musings of an educated person, or necessarily the rantings of a closet racist. He tries hard to show purity of motive, but I think he underestimates how white racists and black activists will characature this book. I would guess that he won't be heavily thanked by anyone, but that's what makes it interesting: no one else has the guts to write about it.
am 16. Januar 2000
What a terrific and brave book! Intriguingly, "Taboo" is not so much a sports book as it is a a sensitive and thought-provoking look at what defines us as human beings. I'm a science buff, greatly interested in the impact of genetics, and found it right on the mark. It also goes about, in a non-polemical way, debunking facile theories of race that have been used for hundreds of years to justify racism and even genocide. Perhaps more than anything, it shatters racist stereotypes that blacks or whites or any "racial" group are innately "superior" or "inferior" -- this is a book about the rich diversity of life, free of the myths of "ranking" that have plagued Western thought for centuries.
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am 6. April 2000
Throught the history of the United States racists beliefs and teaching has been promulgated under the guise of science and religion. This book just adds to that deplorable history. Mr. Entine bases his premises on two flawed ideas. First, the idea that a West African Gene somehow accounts for the sprint success of people of color has an inherent problem. If this gene existed, wouldn't West Africans in Africa, the "purest source" of the gene, dominate the sprint events? Why then have those taken from their homeland and subjected to the "diluting influences" of slavery (i.e race mixing)exceeded in these events over and above their African cousins. At the other end of the spectrum, If the Kenyans and other east Africans have a "genetic advantage" over the rest of the world, why then does their success in distance events come so late in sports history. When the flying finns or the irish milers dominated the distance events, where were the claims of a special gene for East Africans. The fact is, athletic success depends on environmental factors, hard work, and talent. Any claim that other factors involved pre-determine the outcome only fosters greater racial division and diminishes the succes of those who deserve it. Most disturbing about this book though, is the inference that a conclusion can be made about the individual based on some hidden genteic advantage. This absolutely cannot be done. Individual efforts count and cannot be explained away. Save your money.
am 30. Januar 2000
This book is a real eye opener. But I wish that Entine had gotten more into what he thinks were the reasons for these evolutionary turns. In other words what were the specific environmental or sexual selections that were going on in different parts of Africa eons ago?