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© 1986-2004

It seems they no longer require third-grade arithmetic skills for jobs like non-fiction author or NPR host. According to Myers' insane reasoning, there wouldn't be any "conflict" of opinion between the races if every breathing African-American man, woman and child believed O.J. was innocent, and only 16% percent of whites (or around 36 million) agreed.

Math has never been safe in the hands of polemicists, and few topics polemicize more than America's huge problem with race. Columnist David Horowitz -- an orthodox '60s moron of the Left who became an even more orthodox '90s moron of the Right -- believes the "racial gap" between black and white attitudes toward Bill Clinton proves the existence of a paranoid anti-Newt Gingrich "conspiracy" engineered by "leftist demagogues in the congressional black caucus who are still wedded to every jot and tittle of the failed welfare state." Uh, Dave? Maybe it has more to do with which party still defends the Confederate flag?

Of course, ideology and science have long gone hand in hand, as anyone who suffered under Brezhnev or Hitler could tell you. My stepfather thinks it would be better to require politicians to pass a certain level of scientific education, and people in troubled countries are forever talking of forming a "government of experts," but these ideas always make me nervous: nasty politicians in Central Europe are more often than not history professors, and, well, would you trust the class science nerd with social spending programs, let alone The Bomb?

It's a short gangplank between scientific study of racial difference and deliberate policy of creepy eugenics, but there's an equally small step between sensitive skepticism of science and blinkered denial. Probing the edges of these raw nerves wins you no popularity contests, as Jon Entine has found out this year. Entine, author of Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk About It, was also on NPR recently, and in contrast to Myers was one of the more intelligent and considerate people I've ever heard talk on one of those dead-boring book programs they have.

His main idea is that the Human Genome Project is unearthing fantastic data about the genetic codes of major population groups, but so far the only bits deemed worth talking about publicly are disease statistics (Central European Jews' susceptibility to Tay-Sachs, or West Africans' tendency toward colo-rectal cancer, for example). Meanwhile, very interesting findings about race and sports -- mirroring much observational experience -- are either denied or trashed.

I haven't read the book, and I don't have anything intelligent to add about the importance of socioeconomic factors on sporting achievement or whatever, but the articles on his website are interesting, filled with warnings and historical examples of misinterpreting such data, and studded with hard figures (such as: the top 200 performances in the 100-meter dash were run by athletes of West African descent, and all 32 finalists in the last four Olympic men's 100-meter races were also West African, a dominance whose probability based on population numbers alone is 0.0000000000000000000000000000000001%).

Still, some of Entine's critics have painted him as a racist with as crude a brush as Myers apparently uses for long division, accusing him in public appearances of "playing the race card," rather than of contributing to the common discourse.

It would be a sign of health if we could discuss race in this country without wearing a flak jacket.

"If you can believe that individuals of recent African ancestry are not genetically advantaged over those of European and Asian ancestry in certain athletic endeavors," Entine quotes UC Berkeley biological anthropologist Vincent Sarich, "then you probably could be led to believe just about anything. But such dominance will never convince those whose minds are made up that genetics plays not role in shaping the racial patterns we see in sports. When we discuss issues such as race, it pushes buttons and the cerebral cortex just shuts down."

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