Monday, August 11, 2008

Matthew Syed - He's At It Again

Mr Syed is either obsessive or lazy.

This time last year the former international table-tennis player and failed Labour candidate was using his Times column to attack one Jon Entine, American author of a book about why black athletes dominate sport - well, some sports, anyway. Laban gave it a bit of a shoeing on the grounds that he was attacking Entine for things he hadn't actually said.

One year on and he's substantially repeated the same article - again in the Times.

August 2007

The men’s 100m at the World Athletics Championships in Japan this month will be won by a black athlete. This is not so much a prediction as a statement of fact.
August 2008

Pundits are sharply divided as to the outcome. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that the winner will be black.

August 2007

There is a natural conclusion to be drawn from all this: blacks have an inbuilt superiority over whites when it comes to sprinting. Many scientists and writers have made this claim, to the fury of equal rights campaigners who fear that any acknowledgement of natural differences between the races might usher in a new wave of racism.

August 2008

What conclusion should we draw from all this? That blacks have a genetic advantage over whites when it comes to sprinting? It would seem a natural inference except for a nagging voice giving warning about the consequences. If we were to acknowledge systematic genetic differences between the races, where would it lead us? To the conclusion that the superior performance by whites in education is genetic? These are deep waters indeed.

I must confess that I thought it was Chinese and other Asians who had superior performance in education - certainly in Britain. No matter.

August 2007

The prototypical argument for black athletic superiority can be found in Taboo: Why Blacks Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk about it by Jon Entine. Entine’s central assertion is that it is not blacks as a whole that are good at sprinting but rather a subset who can trace their origins to western African coastal states. Indeed, he makes the point that “no white, Asian or East African runner has broken 10 seconds in the 100m” (my italics).

August 2008

The most famous argument for the reality of black genetic superiority is to be found in Jon Entine's Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It. Entine's principal argument is not that all blacks are gifted at sprinting, but rather those that can trace their ancestry to West African coastal states. Indeed, Entine makes the point that “no white, Asian or East African has broken ten seconds in the 100 metres”.

And so on and so forth - the Kenyan distance runners, the pygmies and their unique ability to cope with low ceilings, a morph from "the problem for the “racial scientist” is his yearning to generalise" to "Entine's error lies in his compulsion to generalise". Indeed there's only one new piece of evidence for Mr Syed's theory, if it can be dignified as such, that race doesn't exist except in the minds of white men.

It is surprising that Entine fails to spot his error when he goes on to discuss the success of the Pacific Islands in producing rugby and American football stars. He seems to think this supports his argument that blacks have a genetic superiority at such sports because they have been “bred to run”. It actually does the reverse: there are few populations more genetically distinct from sub-Saharan Africans than Pacific Islanders.

It's lazy, lazy, lazy. If you google "taboo jon entine", this Kenan Malik piece pops up at #1. I hope he's getting reprint rights.

Entine points out that a cluster of South Pacific Islands, such as Samoa and Fiji, have in recent years produced an extraordinary number of American football and Australian rugby players. Such islanders, Entine argues, 'tend to be large and explosively fast', implying that their success somehow gives credence to his 'blacks are bred to run' thesis. In fact it does the opposite: genetically there are few populations in the world more different from sub-Saharan Africans than Pacific Islanders.

My conclusion of last year still stands.

"Mr Syed seems to be afraid of anyone saying that there are any differences between anyone at all. "