August 11, 2012

IRONICALLY, IT'S ONLY TABOO IF YOU'RE A DARWINIST:

What Makes a Great Olympian? Sometimes It's Genetics (Jon Entine,  Aug 11, 2012, Daily Beast)

The director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Institute, Bengt Saltin, has concluded that an athlete's "environment" accounts for no more than 25 percent of athletic ability. The rest comes down to the roll of the genetic dice--with each population group having distinct advantages. In other words, running success is "in the genes."

Here are the facts. Genetically linked, highly heritable characteristics such as skeletal structure, the distribution of muscle fiber types (for example, sprinters have more natural fast-twitch fibers, while distance runners are naturally endowed with more of the slow-twitch variety), reflex capabilities, metabolic efficiency, and lung capacity are not evenly distributed among populations.

It's controversial stuff. Michael Johnson, the 400m world-record holder, recently postulated that black sprinters benefit from the outsize presence of ACTN3. The "speed gene" as it's been dubbed, makes fast-twitch muscles twitch fast. Lacking the ACTN3 protein does not seem to have any harmful health effects but does affect running ability. Scientists conclude that it is almost impossible for someone who lacks the ACTN3 protein to become an elite sprinter. The so-called sprint gene is more common in those of West African descent than in Europeans, according to a study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

Is this running's "smoking gun" gene? No. Sports ability, like IQ, is the product of many genes with environmental triggers influencing the "expression" of our base DNA. But its isolation does underscore that when it comes to performance, genes matter.

As UCLA's Jared Diamond has noted, "Even today, few scientists dare to study racial origins, lest they be branded racists just for being interested in the subject."

But we have no choice but to face this third rail of race. Over the past decade, human genome research has moved from a study of human similarities to a focus on patterned, population-based differences. Such research offers clues to solving the mystery of disease, the Holy Grail of genetics. So why do we readily accept that evolution has turned out Jews with a genetic predisposition to Tay-Sachs, Southeast Asians with a higher proclivity for beta-thalassemia, and blacks who are susceptible to colorectal cancer and sickle-cell disease, yet find it racist to suggest that Usain Bolt can thank his West African ancestry for the most critical part of his success?

The notion that different groups evolved differently is rather unexceptionable for most of us, but the Darwinist finds himself hoist on his belief that these differences must render different species.  Thus, it is easier--more politically correct--to ignore the differences than to follow their own theories where they lead--and led last century.

Posted by at August 11, 2012 8:42 AM
  

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