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Why do some groups of people use chopsticks and others do not? Years back, created a thought experiment. So he found a few hundred students from a university and gathered DNA samples from their cheeks which were then mapped for candidate genes associated with chopstick use. Come to find out, one of the associated genetic markers was associated with chopstick use—accounting for 50 percent of the variation in the trait (Hamer and Sirota, 2000). The effect even replicated many times and was highly significant: but it was biologically meaningless.
One may look at East Asians and say “Why do they use chopsticks” or “Why are they so good at using them while Americans aren’t?” and come to such ridiculous studies such as the one described above. They may even find an association between the trait/behavior and a genetic marker. They may even find that it replicates and is a significant hit. But, it can all be for naught, since population stratification reared its head. Population stratification “refers to differences in allele frequencies between cases and controls due to systematic differences in ancestry rather than association of genes with disease” (Freedman et al, 2004). It “is a potential cause of false associations in genetic association studies” (Oetjens et al, 2016).
Such population stratification in the chopsticks gene study described above should have been anticipated since they studied two different populations. Kaplan (2000: 67-68) described this well:
A similar argument, bu the way, holds true for molecular studies. Basically, it is easy to mistake mere statistical associations for a causal connection if one is not careful to properly partition one’s samples. Hamer and Copeland develop and amusing example of some hypothetical, badly misguided researchers searching for the “successful use of selected hand instruments” (SUSHI) gene (hypothesized to be associated with chopstick usage) between residents in Tokyo and Indianapolis. Hamer and Copeland note that while you would be almost certain to find a gene “associated with chopstick usage” if you did this, the design of such a hypothetical study would be badly flawed. What would be likely to happen here is that a genetic marker associated with the heterogeneity of the group involved (Japanese versus Caucasian) would be found, and the heterogeneity of the group involved would independently account for the differences in the trait; in this case, there is a cultural tendency for more people who grow up in Japan than people who grow up in Indianapolis to learn how to use chopsticks. That is, growing up in Japan is the causally important factor in using chopsticks; having a certain genetic marker is only associated with chopstick use in a statistical way, and only because those people who grow up in Japan are also more likely to have the marker than those who grew up in Indianapolis. The genetic marker is in no way causally related to chopstick use! That the marker ends up associated with chopstick use is therefore just an accident of design (Hamer and Copeland, 1998, 43; Bailey 1997 develops a similar example).
In this way, most—if not all—of the results of genome-wide association studies (GWASs) can be accounted for by population stratification. Hamer and Sirota (2000) is a warning to psychiatric geneticists to not be quick to ascribe function and causation to hits on certain genes from association studies (of which GWASs are).
Many studies, for example, Sniekers et al (2017), Savage et al (2018) purport to “account for” less than 10 percent of the variance in a trait, like “intelligence” (derived from non-construct valid IQ tests). Other GWA studies purport to show genes that affect testosterone production and that those who have a certain variant are more likely to have low testosterone (Ohlsson et al, 2011). Population stratification can have an effect here in these studies, too. GWASs; they give rise to spurious correlations that arise due to population structure—which is what GWASs are actually measuring, they are measuring social class, and not a “trait” (Richardson, 2017b; Richardson and Jones, 2019). Note that correcting for socioeconomic status (SES) fails, as the two are distinct (Richardson, 2002). (Note that GWASs lead to PGSs, which are, of course, flawed too.)
Such papers presume that correlations are causes and that interactions between genes and environment either don’t exist or are irrelevant (see Gottfredson, 2009 and my reply). Both of these claims are false. Correlations can, of course, lead to figuring out causes, but, like with the chopstick example above, attributing causation to things that are even “replicable” and “strongly significant” will still lead to false positives due to that same population stratification. Of course, GWAS and similar studies are attempting to account for the heriatbility estimates gleaned from twin, family, and adoption studies. Though, the assumptions used in these kinds of studies are shown to be false and, therefore, heritability estimates are highly exaggerated (and flawed) which lead to “looking for genes” that aren’t there (Charney, 2012; Joseph et al, 2016; Richardson, 2017a).
Richardson’s (2017b) argument is simple: (1) there is genetic stratification in human populations which will correlate with social class; (2) since there is genetic stratification in human populations which will correlate with social class, the genetic stratification will be associated with the “cognitive” variation; (3) if (1) and (2) then what GWA studies are finding are not “genetic differences” between groups in terms of “intelligence” (as shown by “IQ tests”), but population stratification between social classes. Population stratification still persists even in “homogeneous” populations (see references in Richardson and Jones, 2019), and so, the “corrections for” population stratification are anything but.
So what accounts for the small pittance of “variance explained” in GWASs and other similar association studies (Sniekers et al, 2017 “explained” less than 5 percent of variance in IQ)? Population stratification—specifically it is capturing genetic differences that occurred through migration. GWA studies use huge samples in order to find the genetic signals of the genes of small effect that underline the complex trait that is being studied. Take what Noble (2018) says:
As with the results of GWAS (genome-wide association studies) generally, the associations at the genome sequence level are remarkably weak and, with the exception of certain rare genetic diseases, may even be meaningless (13, 21). The reason is that if you gather a sufficiently large data set, it is a mathematical necessity that you will find correlations, even if the data set was generated randomly so that the correlations must be spurious. The bigger the data set, the more spurious correlations will be found (3).
Calude and Longo (2016; emphasis theirs) “prove that very large databases have to contain arbitrary correlations. These correlations appear only due to the size, not the nature, of data. They can be found in “randomly” generated, large enough databases, which — as we will prove — implies that most correlations are spurious.”
So why should we take association studies seriously when they fall prey to the problem of population stratification (measuring differences between social classes and other populations) along with the fact that big datasets lead to spurious correlations? I fail to think of a good reason why we should take these studies seriously. The chopsticks gene example perfectly illustrates the current problems we have with GWASs for complex traits: we are just seeing what is due to social—and other—stratification between populations and not any “genetic” differences in the trait that is being looked at.
I started this blog in June of 2015. I recall thinking of names for the blog, trying “politcallyincorrect.com” at first, but the domain was taken. I then decided on the name “notpoliticallycorrect.me”. Back then, of course, I was a hereditarian pushing the likes of Rushton, Kanazawa, Jensen, and others. I, to be honest, could never ever see myself disbelieving the “fact” that certain races were more or less intelligent than others, it was preposterous, I used to believe. IQ tests served as a completely scientific instrument which showed, however crudely, that certain races were more intelligent than others. I held these beliefs for around two years after the creation of this blog.
Back then, I used to go to Barnes n Noble and of course, go and browse the biology section, choose a book and drink coffee all day while reading. (I was drinking black coffee, of course.) I recall back in April of 2017 seeing this book DNA Is Not Destiny: The Remarkable, Completely Misunderstood Relationship between You and Your Genes on the shelf in the biology section. The baby blue cover of the book caught my eye—but I scoffed at the title. DNA most definitely was destiny, I thought. Without DNA we could not be who we were. I ended up buying the book and reading it. It took me about a week to finish it and by the end of the book, Heine had me questioning my beliefs.
In the book, Heine discusses IQ, heritability, genes, DNA testing to catch diseases, the MAOA gene, and so on. All in all, the book is against genetic essentialism which is rife in public—and even academic—thought.
After I read DNA Is Not Destiny, the next few weeks I went to Barnes n Noble I would keep seeing Ken Richardson’s Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence. I recall scoffing even more at the title than I did Heine’s book. Nevertheless, I did not buy the book but I kept seeing it every time I went. When I finally bought the book, my worldview was then transformed. Before, I thought of IQ tests as being able to—however crude—measure intelligence differences between individuals and groups. The number that spits out was one’s “intelligence quotient”, and there was no way to raise it—but of course there were many ways to decrease it.
But Richardson’s book showed me that there were many biases implicit in the study of “intelligence”, both conscious and unconscious. The book showed me the many false assumptions that IQ-ists make when constructing tests. Perhaps most importantly, it showed me that IQ test scores were due to one’s social class—and that social class encompasses many other variables that affect test performance, and so stating that IQ tests are instruments to identify one’s social class due to the construction of the test seemed apt—especially due to the content on the test along with the fact that the tests were created by members of a narrow upper-class. This, to me, ensured that the test designers would get the result they wanted.
Not only did this book change my views on IQ, but I did a complete 180 on evolution, too (which Fodor and Pitattelli-Palmarini then solidified). Richardson in chapters 4 and 5 shows that genes don’t work the way most popularly think they do and that they are only used by and for the physiological system to carry out different processes. I don’t know which part of this book—the part on IQ or evolution—most radically changed my beliefs. But after reading Richardson, I did discover Susan Oyama, Denis Noble, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb, David Moore, David Shenk, Paul Griffiths, Karola Stotz, Jerry Fodor. and others who opposed the Neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis.
Richardson’s most recent book then lead me to his other work—and that of other critics of IQ and the current neo-Darwinian Modern Synthesis—and from then on, I was what most would term an “IQ-denier”—since I disbelieve the claim that IQ tests test intelligence, and an “evolution denier”—since I deny the claim that natural selection is a mechanism. In any case, the radical changes in both of my what I would term major views I held were slow-burning, occurring over the course of a few months.
This can be evidenced by just reading the archives of this blog. For example, check the archives from May 2017 and read my article Height and IQ Genes. One can then read the article from April 2017 titled Reading Wrongthought Books in Public to see that over a two-month period that my views slowly began to shift to “IQ-denalism” and that of the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES). Of course, in June of 2017, after defending Rushton’s r/K selection theory for years, I recanted on those views, too, due to Anderson’s (1991) rebuttal of Rushton’s theory. That three-month period from April-June was extremely pivotal in shaping the current views I have today.
After reading those two books, my views about IQ shifted from that of one who believed that nothing could ever shake his belief in them to one of the most outspoken critics of IQ in the “HBD” community. But the views on evolution that I now hold may be more radical than my current views on IQ. This is because Darwin himself—and the theory he formulated—is the object of attack, not a test.
The views I used to hold were staunch; I really believed that I would never recant my views, because I was privy to “The Truth ™” and everyone else was just a useful idiot who did not believe in the reality of intelligence differences which IQ tests showed. Though, my curiosity got the best of me and I ended up buying two books that radically shifted my thoughts on IQ and along with that evolution itself.
So why did I change my views on IQ and evolution? I changed my views due to conceptual and methodological problems on both points that Richardson and Heine pointed out to me. These view changes I underwent more than two years ago were pretty shocking to me. As I realized that my views were beginning to shift, I couldn’t believe it, since I recall saying to myself “I’ll never change my views.” the inadequacy of the replies to the critics was yet another reason for the shift.
It’s funny how things work out.
Five years away is always five years away. When one makes such a claim, they can always fall back on the “just wait five more years!” canard. Charles Murray is one who makes such claims. In an interview with the editor of Skeptic Magazine, Murray stated to Frank Miele:
I have confidence that in five years from now, and thereafter, this book will be seen as a major accomplishment.
This interview was in 1996 (after the release of the soft cover edition of The Bell Curve), and so “five years” would be 2001. But “predictions” such as this from HBDers (that the next big thing for their ideology, for example) is only X years away happens a lot. I’ve seen many HBDers make claims that only in 5 to 10 years the evidence for their position will come out. Such claims seem strangely religious to me. There is a reason for that. (See Conley and Domingue, 2016 for a molecular genetic refutation of The Bell Curve. While Murray’s prediction failed, 22 years after The Bell Curve’s publication, the claims of Murray and Herrnstein were refuted.)
Numerous people throughout history have made predictions regarding the date of Christ’s return. Some have used calculations to ascertain the date of Christ’s return, from the Bible. We can just take a look at the Wikipedia page for predictions and claims for the second coming of Christ where there are many (obviously failed) predictions of His return.
Take John Wesley’s claim that Revelations 12:14 referred to the day that Christ should come. Or one of Charles Taze Russell’s (the first president of the Watch Tower Society of Jehova’s Witnesses) claim that Jesus would return in 1874 and be ruling invisibly from heaven.
Russell’s beliefs began with Adventist teachings. While Russell, at first, did not take to the claim that Christ’s return could be predicted, that changed when he met Adventist author Nelson Barbour. The Adventists taught that the End Times began in 1799, Christ returned invisibly in 1874 with a physical return in 1878. (When this did not come to pass, many followers left Barbour and Russell states that Barbour did not get the event wrong, he just got the fate wrong.) So all Christians that died before 1874 would be resurrected, and Armageddon would begin in 1914. Since WWI began in 1914, Russell took that as evidence that his prediction was coming to pass. So Russell sold his clothing stores, worth millions of dollars today, and began writing and preaching about Christ’s imminent refuted. This doesn’t need to be said, but the predictions obviously failed.
So the date of 1914 for Armageddon (when Christ is supposed to return), was come to by Russell from studying the Bible and the great pyramids:
A key component to the calculation was derived from the book of Daniel, Chapter 4. The book refers to “seven times“. He interpreted each “time” as equal to 360 days, giving a total of 2,520 days. He further interpreted this as representing exactly 2,520 years, measured from the starting date of 607 BCE. This resulted in the year 1914-OCT being the target date for the Millennium.
Here is the prediction in Russell’s words “…we consider it an established truth that the final end of the kingdoms of this world, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God, will be accomplished by the end of A.D. 1914” (1889). When 1914 came and went (sans the beginning of WWI which he took to be a sign of the, End Times), Russell changed his view.
Now, we can liken the Russell situation to Murray. Murray claimed that in 5 years after his book’s publication, that the “book would be seen as a major accomplishment.” Murray also made a similar claim back in 2016. Someone wrote to evolutionary biologist Joseph Graves about a talk Murray gave; he was offered an opportunity to debate Graves about his claims. Graves stated (my emphasis):
After his talk I offered him an opportunity to debate me on his claims at/in any venue of his choosing. He refused again, stating he would agree after another five years. The five years are in the hope of the appearance of better genomic studies to buttress his claims. In my talk I pointed out the utter weakness of the current genomic studies of intelligence and any attempt to associate racial differences in measured intelligence to genomic variants.
(Do note that this was back in April of 2016, about one year before I changed my hereditarian views to that of DST. I emailed Murray about this, he responded to me, and gave me permission to post his reply which you can read at the above link.)
Emil Kirkegaard stated on Twitter:
Do you wanna bet that future genomics studies will vindicate us? Ashkenazim intelligence is higher for mostly genetic reasons. Probably someone will publish mixed-ethnic GWAS for EA/IQ within a few years
Notice, though “within a few years” is vague; though I would take that to be, as Kirkegaard states next, three years. Kirkegaard was much more specific for PGS (polygenic scores) and Ashkenazi Jews, stating that “causal variant polygenic scores will show alignment with phenotypic gaps for IQ eg in 3 years time.” I’ll remember this; January 6th, 2022. (Though it was just an “example given”, this is a good example of a prediction from an HBDer.) Nevermind the problems with PGS/GWA studies (Richardson, 2017; Janssens and Joyner, 2019; Richardson and Jones, 2019).
I can see a prediction being made, it not coming to pass, and, just like Russel, one stating “No!! X, Y, and Z happened so that invalidated the prediction! The new one is X time away!” Being vague about timetables about as-of-yet-to-occur events it dishonest; stick to the claim, and if it does not occur….stop holding the view, just as Russel did. However, people like Murray won’t change their views; they’re too entrenched in this. Most may know that I over two years ago I changed my views on hereditarianism (which “is the doctrine or school of thought that heredity plays a significant role in determining human nature and character traits, such as intelligence and personality“) due to two books: DNA Is Not Destiny: The Remarkable, Completely Misunderstood Relationship between You and Your Genes and Genes, Brains, and Human Potential: The Science and Ideology of Intelligence. But I may just be a special case here.
Genes, Brains, and Human Potential then led me to the work of Jablonka and Lamb, Denis Noble, David Moore, Robert Lickliter, and others—the developmental systems theorists. DST is completely at-ends with the main “field” of “HBD”: behavioral genetics. See Griffiths and Tabery (2013) for why teasing apart genes and environment—nature and nurture—is problematic.
In any case, five years away is always five years away, especially with HBDers. That magic evidence is always “right around the corner”, despite the fact that none ever comes. I know that some HBDers will probably clamor that I’m wrong and that Murray or another “HBDer” has made a successful prediction and not immediately change the date of said prediction. But, just like Charles Taze Russell, when the prediction does not come to pass, just make something up about how and why the prediction didn’t come to pass and everything should be fine.
I think Charles Murray should change his name to Charles Taze Russel, since he pushed back the date of the prediction so many times. Though, to Russel’s credit, he did eventually recant on his views. I would find it hard to believe that Murray would; he’s too deep in this game and his career writing books and being an AEI pundit is on the line.
So I strongly doubt that Murray would ever come outright and say “I was wrong.” Too much money is on the line for him. (Note that Murray has a new book releasing in January titled Human Diversity: Gender, Race, Class, and Genes and you know that I will give a scathing review of it, since I already know Murray’s MO.) It’s ironic to me: Most HBDers are pretty religious in their convictions and can and will explain away data that doesn’t line up with their beliefs, just like a theist.
The cold winter theory (CWT) is a theory that purports to explain why those whose ancestors evolved in colder climes are more “intelligent” than those whose ancestors evolved in warmer climes. Popularized by Rushton (1997), Lynn (2006), and Kanazawa (2012), the theory—supposedly—accounts for the “haves” and the “have not” in regard to intelligence. However, the theory is a just-so story, that is, it explains what it purports to explain without generating previously unknown facts not used in the construction of the theory. PumpkinPerson is irritated by people who do not believe the just-so story of the CWT writing (citing the same old “challenges” as Lynn which were dispatched by McGreal):
The cold winter theory is extremely important to HBD. In fact I don’t even understand how one can believe in racially genetic differences in IQ without also believing that cold winters select for higher intelligence because of the survival challenges of keeping warm, building shelter, and hunting large game.
The CWT is “extremely important to HBD“, as PP claims, since there needs to be an evolutionary basis for population differences in “intelligence” (IQ). Without the just-so story, the claim that racial differences in “intelligence” are “genetically” based crumbles.
Well, here is the biggest “challenge” (all other refutations of it aside) to the CWT. Notions of which population are or are not “intelligent” change with the times. The best example is what the Greeks—specifically Aristotle—wrote about the intelligence of those who lived in the north. Maurizio Meloni, in his 2019 book Impressionable Biologies: From the Archaeology of Plasticity to the Sociology of Epigenetics captures this point (pg 41-42; emphasis his):
Aristotle’s Politics is a compendium of all these ideas [Orientals being seen as “softer, more delicate and unwarlike” along with the structure of militaries], with people living in temperate (mediocriter) places presented as the most capable of producing the best political systems:
“The nations inhabiting the cold places and those of Europe are full of spirit but somewhat deficient in intelligence and skill, so that they continue comparatively free, but lacking in political organization and the capacity to rule their neighbors. The peoples of Asia on the other hand are intelligent and skillful in temperament, but lack spirit, so that they are in continuous subjection and slavery. But the Greek race participates in both characters, just as it occupies the middle position geographically, for it is both spirited and intelligent; hence it continues to be free and to have very good political institutions, and to be capable of ruling all mankind if it attains constitutional unity.” (Pol. 1327b23-33, my italics)
Views of direct environmental influence and the porosity of bodies to these effects also entered the military machines of ancient empires, like that of the Romans. Offices such as Vegetius (De re militari, I/2) suggested avoiding recruiting troops from cold climates as they had too much blood and, hence, inadequate intelligence. Instead, he argued, troops from temperate climates be recruited, as they possess the right amount of blood, ensuring their fitness for camp discipline (Irby, 2016). Delicate and effemenizing land was also to be abandoned as soon as possible, according Manilius and Caesar (ibid). Probably the most famous geopolitical dictum of antiquity reflects exactly this plastic power of places: “soft lands breed soft men”, according to the claim that Herodotus attributed to Cyrus.
Isn’t that weird, how things change? Quite obviously, which population is or is not “intelligent” is based on the time and place of the observation. Those in northern Europe, who are purported to be more intelligent than those who live in temperate, hotter climes—back in antiquity—were seen to be less intelligent in comparison to those who lived in more temperate, hotter climes. Imagine stating what Aristotle said thousands of years ago in the present day—those who push the CWT just-so story would look at you like you’re crazy because, supposedly, those who live in and evolved in colder climes had to plan ahead and faced a tougher environment in comparison to those who lived closer to the equator.
Imagine we could transport Aristotle to the present day. What would he say about our perspectives on which population is or is not intelligent? Surely he would think it ridiculous that the Greeks today are less “intelligent” than those from northern Europe. But that only speaks to how things change and how people’s perspectives on things change with the times and who is or is not a dominant group. Now imagine that we can transport someone (preferably an “IQ” researcher) to antiquity when the Greeks were at the height of their power. They would then create a just-so story to justify their observations about the intelligence of populations based on their evolutionary history.
Anatoly Karlin cites Galton, who claims that ancient Greek IQ was 125, while Karlin himself claims IQ 90. I cite Karlin’s article not to contest his “IQ estimates”—nor Galton’s—I cite it to show the disparate “estimates” of the intelligence of the ancient Greeks. Because, according to the Greeks, they occupied the middle position geographically, and so they were both spirited and intelligent compared to Asians and northern Europeans.
This is similar to Wicherts, Boorsboom, and Dolan (2010) who responded to Rushton, Lynn, and Templer. They state that the socio-cultural achievements of Mesopotamia and Egypt stand in “stark contrast to the current low level of national IQ of peoples of Iraq and Egypt and that these ancient achievements appear to contradict evolutionary accounts of differences in national IQ.“ One can make a similar observation about the Maya. Their cultural achievements stand in stark contrast to their “evolutionary history” in warm climes. The Maya were geographically isolated from other populations and they still created a writing system (independently) along with other cultural achievements that show that “national IQs” are irrelevant to what the population achieved. I’m sure an IQ-ist can create a just-so story to explain this away, but that’s not the point.
Going back to what Karlin and Galton stated about Greek IQ, their IQ is irrelevant to their achievements. Whether or not their IQ was 120-125 or 90 is irrelevant to what they achieved. To the Mesopotamians and Egyptians, they were more intelligent than those from northern climes. They would, obviously, think that based on their achievements and the lack of achievements in the north. The achievements of peoples in antiquity would paint a whole different picture in regard to an evolutionary theory of human intelligence—and its distribution in human populations.
So which just-so story (ad hoc hypothesis) should we accept? Or should we just accept that which population is or is not “intelligent” and capable of constructing militaries is contingent based on the time and the place of the observation? Looking at “national IQs” of peoples in antiquity would show a huge difference in comparison to what we observe today about the “national IQs” (supposedly ‘intelligence’) of populations around the world. In antiquity, those who lived in temperate and even hotter climes had greater achievements than others. Greeks and Romans argued that peoples from northern climes should not be enlisted in the military due to where they were from.
These observations from the Greeks and Romans about who and who not to enlist in the military, along with their thoughts on Northern Europeans prove that perspectives on which population is or is not “intelligent” is contingent based on the time and place. This is why “national IQs” should not be accepted, not even accounting for the problems with the data (Richardson, 2004; also see Morse, 2008; also see The Ethics of Development: An Introduction by Ingram and Derdak, 2018). Seeing the development of countries/populations in antiquity would lead to a whole different evolutionary theory of the intelligence of populations, proving the contingency of the observations.
In 2012, biologist Hippokratis Kiaris published a book titled Genes, Polymorphisms, and the Making of Societies: How Genetic Behavioral Traits Influence Human Cultures. His main point is that “the presence of different genes in the corresponding people has actually dictated the acquisition of these distinct cultural and historical lines, and that an alternative outcome might be unlikely” (Kiaris, 2012: 9). This is a book that I have not seen discussed in any HBD blog, and based on the premise of the book (how it purports to explain behavioral/societal outcomes between Eastern and Western society) you would think it would be. The book is short, and he speaks with a lot of determinist language. (It’s worth noting he does not discuss IQ at all.)
In the book, he discusses how genes “affect” and “dictate” behavior which then affects “collective decisions and actions” while also stating that it is “conceivable” that history, and what affects human decision-making and reactions, are also “affected by the genetic identity of the people involved” (Kiaris, 2012: 11). Kiaris argues that genetic differences between Easterners and Westerners are driven by “specific environmental conditions that apparently drove the selection of specific alleles in certain populations, which in turn developed particular cultural attitudes and norms” (Kiaris, 2012: 91).
Kiaris attempts to explain the societal differences between the peoples who adopted Platonic thought and those who adopted Confucian thought. He argues that differences between Eastern and Western societies “are not random and stochastic” but are “dictated—or if this is too strong an argument, they are influenced considerably—by the genes that these people carry.” So, Kiaris says, “what we view as a choice is rather the complex and collective outcome of the influence of people’s specific genes combined with the effects of their specific environment … [which] makes the probability for rendering a certain choice distinct between different populations” (Kiaris, 2012: 50).
The first thing that Kiaris discusses (behavior wise) is DRD4. This allele has been associated with miles migrated from Africa (with a correlation of .85) along with novelty-seeking and hyperactivity (which may cause the association found with DRD4 frequency and miles migrated from Africa (Chen et al, 1999). Kiaris notes, of course, that the DRD4 alleles are unevenly distributed across the globe, with people who have migrated further from Africa having a higher frequency of these alleles. Europeans were more likely to have the “novelty-seeking” DRD7 compared to Asian populations (Chang et al, 1996). But, Kiaris (2012: 68) wisely writes (emphasis mine):
Whether these differences [in DRD alleles] represent the collective and cumulative result of selective pressure or they are due to founder effects related to the genetic composition of the early populations that inhabited the corresponding areas remains elusive and is actually impossible to prove or disprove with certainty.
Kiaris then discusses differences between Eastern and Western societies and how we might understand these differences between societies as regards novelty-seeking and the DRD4-7 distribution across the globe. Westerners are more individualistic and this concept of individuality is actually a cornerstone of Western civilization. The “increased excitability and attraction to extravagance” of Westerners, according to Kiaris, is linked to this novelty-seeking behavior which is also related to individualism “and the tendency to constantly seek for means to obtain satisfaction” (Kiaris, 2012: 68). We know that Westerners do not shy away from exploration; after all, the West discovered the East and not vice versa.
Easterners, on the other hand, are more passive and have “an attitude that reflects a certain degree of stoicism and makes life within larger—and likely collectivistic—groups of people more convenient“. Easterners, compared to Westerners, take things “the way they are” which “probably reflects their belief that there is not much one can or should do to change them. This is probably the reason that these people appear rigid against life and loyal, a fact that is also reflected historically in their relatively high political stability” (Kiaris, 2012: 68-69).
Kiaris describes DRD4 as a “prototype Westerner’s gene” (pg 83), stating that the 7R allele of this gene is found more frequently in Europeans compares to Asians. The gene has been associated with increased novelty-seeking, exploratory activity and human migrations, along with liberal ideology. These, of course, are cornerstones of Western civilization and thought, and so, Kiaris argues that the higher frequency of this allele in Europeans—in part—explains certain societal differences between the East and West. Kiaris (2012: 83) then makes a bold claim:
All these features [novelty-seeking, exploratory activity and migration] indeed tend to characterize Westerners and the culutral norms they developed, posing the intriguing possibility that DRD4 can actually represent a single gene that can “predispose” for what we understand as the stereotypic Western-type behavior. Thus, we could imagine that an individual beating the 7-repeat allele functions more efficiently in Western society while the one without this allele would probably be better suited to a society with Eastern-like structure. Alternatively, we could propose that a society with more individuals bearing the 7-repeat allele is more likely to have followed historical lines and choices more typical of a Western society, while a population with a lower number (or deficient as it is the actual case with Easterners) of individuals with the 7-repeat allele would more likely attend to the collective historical outcome of Eaasterners.
Kiaris (2012: 84) is, importantly, skeptical that having a high number of “novelty-seekers” and “explorers” would lead to higher scientific achievement. This is because “attempts to extrapolate from individual characteristics to those of a group of people and societies possess certain dangers and conceptual limitations.”
Kiaris (2012: 86) says that “collectivistic behavior … is related to the activity of serotonin.” He then goes on to cite a few instances of other polymorphisms which are associated with collective behavior as well. Goldman et al (2010) show ethnic differences in the l and s alleles (from Kiaris, 2012: 86):
It should also be noted that populations (Easterners) that had a higher frequency of the s allele had a lower prevalence of depression than Westerners. So Western societies are more likely to “suffer more frequently from various manifestations of depression and general mood disorders than those of Eastern cultures (Chiao & Blizinsky, 2010)” (Kiaris, 2012: 89).
As can be seen from the table above, Westerners are more likely to have the l allele than Easterners, which should subsequently predict higher levels of happiness in Western compared to Eastern populations. However, “happiness” is, in many ways, subjective; so how would one find an objective way to measure “happiness” cross-culturally? However, Kiaris (2012: 94) writes: “Intuitively speaking, though, I have to admit that I would rather expect Asians to be happier, in general, than Westerners. I cannot support this by specific arguments, but I think the reason for that is related to the individualistic approach of life that the people possess in Western societies: By operating under individualistic norms, it is unavoidably stressful, a condition that operates at the expense of the perception of individuals’ happiness.”
Kiaris discusses catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), which is an enzyme responsible for the inactivation of catecholamines. Catecholamines are the hormones dopamine, adrenaline, and noradrenaline. These hormones regulate the “fight or flight” function (Goldstein, 2011). So since catecholamines play a regulatory role in the “fight or flight” mechanism, increased COMT activity results in lower dopamine levels, which is then associated with better performance.
“Warriors” and “worriers” are intrinsically linked to the “fight or flight” mechanism. A “warrior” is someone who performs better under stress, achieves maximal performance despite threat and pain, and is more likely to act efficiently in a threatening environment. A “worrier” is “someone that has an advantage in memory and attention tasks, is more exploratory and efficient in complex environments, but who exhibits worse performance under stressful conditions (Stein et al., 2006)” (Kiaris, 2012: 102).
Kiaris (2012: 107) states that “at the level of society, it can be argued that the specific Met-bearing COMT allele contributes to the buildup of Western individualism. Opposed to this, Easterners’ increased frequency of the Val-bearing “altruistic” allele fits quite well with the construction of a collectivistic society: You have to be an altruist at some degree in order to understand the benefits of collectivism. By being a pure individualist, you only understand “good” as defined and reflected by your sole existence.”
So, Kiaris’ whole point is thus: there are differences in polymorphic genes between Easterners and Westerners (and are unevenly distributed) and that differences in these polymorphisms (DRD4, HTT, MAOA, and COMT) explain behavioral differences between behaviors in Eastern and Western societies. So the genetic polymorphisms associated with “Western behavior” (DRD4) are associated with increased novelty-seeking, tendency for financial risk-taking, distance of OoA migration, and liberal ideology. Numerous different MAOA and 5-HTT polymorphisms are associated with collectivism (e.g., Way and Lieberman, 2006 for MAOA and collectivism). The polymorphism in COMT more likely to be found in Westerners predisposes for “worrier’s behavior”. Furthermore, certain polymorphisms of the CHRNB3 gene are more common in all of the populations that migrated out of Africa, which predisposed for leaders—and not follower—behavior.
|Novelty seeking||DRD4||7-repeat novelty seeking allele more common in the West|
|Migration||DRD4||7-repeat allele is associated with distance from Africa migration|
|Nomads/settlers||DRD4||7-repeat allele is associated with nomadic life|
|Political ideology||DRD4||7-repeat allele is more common in liberals|
|Financial risk taking||DRD4||7-repeat allele is more common in risk takers|
|Individualism/Collectivism||HTT||s allele (collectivistic) of 5-HTT is more common in the East|
|Happiness||HTT||l allele has higher prevalence in individuals happy with their life|
|Individualism/Collectivism||MAOA||3-repeat allele (collectivistic) more common in the East)|
|Warrior/Worrier||COMT||A-allele (worrier) more common in the West|
|Altruism||COMT||G-allele (warrior) associated with altruism|
|Leader/Follower||CHRBN3||A-allele (leader) more common in populations Out-of-Africa|
The table above is from Kiaris (2012: 117) who lays out the genes/polymorphisms discussed in his book—what supposedly shows how and why Eastern and Western societies are so different.
Kiaris (2012: 141) then makes a bold claim: “Since we know now that at least a fraction (and likely more than that) of our behavior is due to our genes“, actually “we” don’t “know” this “now”.
The takeaways from the book are: (1) populations differ genetically; (2) since populations differ genetically, then genetic differences correlated with behavior should show frequency differences between populations; (3) since these populations show both behavioral/societal differences and they also differ in genetic polymorphisms which are then associated with that behavior, then those polymorphisms are, in part, a cause of that society and the behavior found in it; (4) therefore, differences in Eastern and Western societies are explained by (some) of these polymorphisms discussed.
Now for a simple rebuttal of the book:
“B iff G” (behavior B is possible if and only if a specific genotype G is instantiated) or “if G, then necessarily B” (genotype G is a sufficient cause for behavior B). Both claims are false; genes are neither a sufficient or necessary cause for any behavior. Genes are, of course, a necessary pre-condition for behavior, but they are not needed for a specific behavior to be instantiated; genes can be said to be difference makers (Sterelny and Kitcher, 1988) (but see Godfrey-Smith and Lewontin, 1993 for a response). These claims cannot be substantiated; therefore, the claims that “if G, then necessarily B” and “B iff G” are false, it cannot be shown that genes are difference makers in regard to behavior, nor can it be shown that particular genes or whatnot.
I’m surprised that I have not come across a book like this sooner; you would expect that there would be a lot more written on this. This book is short, it discusses some good resources, but the conclusions that Kiaris draws, in my opinion, will not come to pass because genes are not neccesary nor sufficient cause of any type of behavior, nor can it be shown that genes are causes of any behavior B. Behavioral differences between Eastern and Western societies, logically, cannot come down to differences in genes, since they are neither necessary nor sufficient causes of behavior (genes are neccessary pre-conditions for behavior, since without genes there is no organism, but genes cannot explain behavior).
Kiaris attempts to show how and why Eastern and Western societies became so different, how and why Western societies are dominated by “Aristotle’s reason and logic”, while Eastern lines of thought “has been dominated by Confucious’s harmony, collectivism, and context dependency” (Kiaris, 2012: 9). While the book is well-written and researched (he talks about nothing new if you’re familiar with the literature), Kiaris fails to prove his ultimate point: that differences in genetic polymorphisms between individuals in different societies explain how and why the societies in question are so different. Though, it is not logically possible for genes to be a necessary nor sufficient cause for any behavior. Kiaris talks like a determinist, since he says that “the presence of different genes in the corresponding people has actually dictated the acquisition of these distinct cultural and historical lines, and that an alternative outcome might be unlikely” (Kiaris, 2012: 9), though that is just wishful thinking: if we were able to start history over again, things would occur differently, “the presence of different genes in the corresponding people” be dammed, since genes do not cause behavior.
Everyone wants to know the keys to athletic success, however, as I have argued in the past, to understand elite athletic performance, we must understand how the system works in concert with everything—especially in the environments the biological system finds itself in. To reduce factors down to genes, or training, or X or Y does not make sense; to look at what makes an elite athlete, the method of reductionism, while it does allow us to identify certain differences between athletes, it does not allow us to appreciate the full-range of how and why elite athletes differ in their sport of choice. One large meta-analysis has been done on the effects of a few genotypes on elite athletic performance, and it shows us what we already know (blacks are more likely to have the genotype associated with power performance—so why are there no black Strongmen or any competitors in the World’s Strongest Man?). A few studies and one meta-analysis exist, attempting to get to the bottom of the genetics of elite athletic performance and, while it of course plays a factor, as I have argued in the past, we must take a systems view of the matter.
One 2013 study found that a functional polymorphism in the angiotensinogen (ATG) region was 2 to 3 times more common in elite power athletes than in (non-athlete) controls and elite endurance athletes (Zarebska et al, 2013). This sample tested was Polish, n = 223, 156 males, 67 females, and then they further broke down their athletic sample into tiers. They tested 100 power athletes (29 100-400 m runners; 22 powerlifters; 20 weightlifters; 14 throwers and 15 jumpers) and 123 endurance athletes (4 tri-athletes; 6 race walkers; 14 road cyclists; 6 15 to 50 m cross-country skiers; 12 marathon runners; 53 rowers; 17 3 to 10 km runners; and 11 800 to 1500 m swimmers).
Zarebska et al (2013) attempted to replicate previous associations found in other studies (Buxens et al, 2009) most notably the association with the M235T polymorphism in the AGT (angiotensinogen) gene. Zarebska et al’s (2013) main finding was that there was a higher representation of elite power athletes with the CC and C alleles of the M235T polymorphism compared with endurance athletes and controls, which suggests that the C allele of the M235T gene “may be associated with a predisposition to power-oriented
events” (Zarebska et al, 2013: 2901).
Elite power athletes were more likely to possess the CC genotype; 40 percent of power athletes had the genotype whereas 13 percent of endurance had it and 18 percent of non-athletes had it. So power athletes were more than three times as likely to have the CC genotype, compared to endurance athletes and twice as likely to have it compared to non-athletes. On the other hand, one copy of the C allele was found in 55 percent of the power athletes whereas, for the endurance athletes and non-athletes, the C allele was found in about 40 percent of individuals. (Further, in the elite anaerobic athlete, explosive power was consistently found to be a difference maker in predicting elite sporting performance; Lorenz et al, 2013.)
Now we come to the more interesting parts: ethnic differences in the M235T polymorphism. Zarebska et al (2013: 2901-2902) write:
The M235T allele distribution varies widely according to the subject’s ethnic origin: the T235 allele is by far the most frequent in Africans (;0.90) and in African-Americans (;0.80). It is also high in the Japanese population (0.65–0.75). The T235 (C4027) allele distribution of the control participants in our study was lower (0.40) but was similar to that reported among Spanish Caucasians (0.41), as were the sports specialties of both the power athletes (throwers, sprinters, and jumpers) and endurance athletes (marathon runners, 3- to 10-km runners, and road cyclists), thus mirroring the aforementioned studies.
Zarebska et al (2013: 2902) conclude that their study—along with the study they replicated—supports the hypothesis that the C allele of the M235T polymorphism in the AGT gene may confer a competitive advantage in power-oriented sports, which is partly mediated through ANGII production in the skeletal muscles. Mechanisms can explain the mediation of ANGII production in skeletal muscles, such as a direct skeletal muscle hypertrophic effect, along with the redistribution of between muscle blood flow between type I (slow twitch) and II fibers (fast twitch), which would then augment power and speed. However, it is interesting to note that Zarebska et al (2013) did not find any differences between “top-elite” level athletes who had won medals in international competitions compared to elite-level athletes who were not medalists.
The big deal about this gene is that the AGT gene is part of the renin-angiotensin system which is partly responsible for blood pressure and body salt regulation (Hall, 1991; Schweda, 2014). There seems to be an ethnic difference in this polymorphism, and, according to Zarebska et al (2013), African Americans and Africans are more likely to have the polymorphisms that are associated with elite power performance.
There is also a meta-analysis on genotyping and elite power athlete performance (Weyerstrab et al, 2017). Weyerstrab et al (2017) meta-analyzed 36 studies which attempted to find associations between genotype and athletic ability. One of the polymorphisms studied was the famous ACTN3. It has been noted that, when conditions are right (i.e., the right morphology), the combined effects of morphology along with the contractile properties of the individual muscle fibers contribute to the enhanced performance of those with the RR ACTN3 genotype (Broos et al, 2016), while Ma et al (2013) also lend credence to the idea that genetics influences sporting performance. This is, in fact, the most-replicated association in regard to elite sporting performance: we know the mechanism behind how muscle fibers contract; we know how the fibers contract and the morphology needed to maximize the effectiveness of said fast twitch fibers (type II fibers). (Blacks have a higher proportion of type II fibers [see Caeser and Henry, 2015 for a review].)
Weyerstrab et al (2017) meta-analyzed 35 articles, finding significant associations with genotype and elite power performance. They found that ten polymorphisms were significantly associated with power athlete states. Their most interesting findings, though, were on race. Weyerstrab et al (2017: 6) write:
Results of this meta-analysis show that US African American carriers of the ACE AG genotype (rs4363) were more than two times more likely to become a power athlete compared to carriers of the ACE preferential genotype for power athlete status (AA) in this population.
“Power athlete” does not necessarily have to mean “strength athlete” as in powerlifters or weightlifters (more on weightlifters below).
Lastly, the AGT M235T polymorphism, while associated with other power movements, was not associated with elite weightlifting performance (Ben-Zaken et al, 2018). As noted above, this polymorphism was observed in other power athletes, and since these movements are largely similar (short, explosive movements), one would rightly reason that this association should hold for weightlifters, too. However, this is not what we find.
Weightlifting, compared to other explosive, power sports, is different. The beginning of the lifts take explosive power, but during the ascent of the lift, the lifter moves the weight slower, which is due to biomechanics and a heavy load. Ben-Zaken et al (2018) studied 47 weightlifters (38 male, 9 female) and 86 controls. Every athlete that was studied competed in national and international meets on a regular basis. Thirty of the weightlifters were also classified as “elite”, which entails participating in and winning national and international competitions such as the Olympics and the European and World Championships).
Ben-Zaken et al (2018) did find that weightlifters had a higher prevalence of the AGT 235T polymorphism when compared to controls, though there was no difference in the prevalence of this polymorphism when elite and national-level competitors were compared, which “[suggests] that this polymorphism cannot determine or predict elite competitive weightlifting performance” (Ben-Zaken et al, 2018: 38). Of course, a favorable genetic profile is important for sporting success, though, despite the higher prevalence of AGT in weightlifters compared to controls, this could not explain the difference between national and elite-level competitors. Other polymorphisms could, of course, contribute to weightlifting success, variables “such as training experience, superior equipment and facilities, adequate nutrition, greater familial support, and motivational factors, are crucial for top-level sports development as well” (Ben-Zaken et al, 2018: 39).
I should also comment on Anatoly Karlin’s new article The (Physical) Strength of Nations. I don’t disagree with his main overall point; I only disagree that grip strength is a good measure of overall strength—even though it does follow the expected patterns. Racial differences in grip strength exist, as I have covered in the past. Furthermore, there are associations between muscle strength and longevity, with stronger men being more likely to live longer, fuller lives (Ruiz et al, 2008; Volkalis, Haille, and Meisinger, 2015; Garcia-Hermosa, et al, 2018) so, of course, strength training can only be seen as a net positive, especially in regard to living a longer and fuller life. Hand grip strength does have a high correlation with overall strength (Wind et al, 2010; Trosclair et al, 2011). While handgrip strength can tell you a whole lot about your overall health (Lee et al, 2016), of course, there is no better proxy than actually doing the lifts/exercises to ascertain one’s level of strength.
There are replicated genetic associations between explosive, powerful athletic performance, along with even the understanding of the causal mechanisms behind the polymorphisms and their carry-over to power sports. We know that if morphology is right and the individual has the RR ACTN3 genotype, that they will exceed in explosive sports. We know the causal pathways of ACTN3 and how it leads to differences in sprinting competitions. It should be worth noting that, while we do know a lot more about the genomics of sports than we did 20, even 10 years ago, current genetic testing has zero predictive power in regard to talent identification (Pitsladis et al, 2013).
So, of course, for parents and coaches who wonder about the athletic potential of their children and students, the best way to gauge whether or not they will excel in athletics is…to have them compete and compare them to other kids. Even if the genetics aspect of elite power performance is fully unlocked one day (which I doubt it will be), the best way to ascertain whether or not one will excel in a sport is to put them to the test and see what happens. We are in our infancy in understanding the genomics of sporting performance, but when we do understand which genotypes are more prevalent in regard to certain sports (and of course the interactions of the genotype with the environment and genes), then we can better understand how and why others are better in certain sports.
The genomics of elite sporting performance is very interesting; however, the answer that reductionists want to see will not appear: genes are difference makers (Sterelny and Griffith, 1999), not causes, and along with a whole slew of other environmental and mental factors (Lippi, Favaloro, and Guidi 2008), along with a favorable genetic profile with sufficient training (and everything else that comes along with it) are needed for the athlete to reach their maximum athletic potential (see Guth and Roth, 2013). Genetic and environmental differences between individuals and groups most definitely explain differences in elite sporting performance, though elucidating what causes what and the mechanisms that cause the studied trait in question will be tough.
Just because group A has gene or gene networks G and they compete in competition C does not mean that gene or gene networks G contribute in full—or in part—to sporting success. The correlations could be coincidental and non-functional in regard to the sport in question. Athletes should be studied in isolation, meaning just studying a specific athlete in a specific discipline to ascertain how, what, and why works for the specific athlete along with taking anthropomorphic measures, seeing how bad they want “it”, and other environmental factors such as nutrition and training. Looking at the body as a system will take us away from privileging one part over another—while we also do understand that they do play a role but not the role that reductionists believe.
These studies, while they attempt to show us how genetic factors cause differences at the elite level in power sports, they will not tell the whole story, because we must look at the whole system, not reduce it down to the sum of its parts (Shenk, 2011: chapter 5). While blacks are more likely to have these polymorphisms that are associated with elite power athlete performance, this does not obviously carry over to strongman and powerlifting competition.
In the 1940s, psychologist William Sheldon created a system of body measures known as “somatotyping”, then took his somatotypes and attempted to classify each soma (endomorph, ectomorph, or mesomorph) to differing personality types. It was even said that “constitutional psychology can guide a eugenics program and save the modern world from itself.”
Sheldon attempted to correlate different personality dimensions to different somas. But his somas fell out of favor before being revived by two of his disciples—without the “we-can-guess-your-personality-from-your-body-type” canard that Sheldon used. Somatotyping, while of course being put to use in a different way today compared to what it was originally created for, it gives us reliable dimensions for human appendages and from there we can ascertain what a given individual would excel at in regard to sporting events (obviously this is just on the basis of physical measures and does not measure the mind one needs to excel in sports).
The somatotyping system is straightforward: You have three values, say at 1-1-7; the first refers to endomorphy, the second refers to mesomorphy and the third refers to ectomorphy, therefore a 1-1-7 would be an extreme ectomorph. However, few people are at the extreme end of each soma, and most people have a combination of two or even all three of the somas.
According to Carter (2002): “The somatotype is defined as the quantification of the present shape and composition of the human body.” So, obviously, somas can change over time. However, it should be noted that the somatotype is, largely, based on one’s musculoskeletal system. This is where the appendages come in, along with body fat, wide and narrow clavicles and chest etc. This is why the typing system, although it began as a now-discredited method, should still be used today since we do not use the pseudoscientific personality measures with somatotyping.
Ectomorphs are long and lean, lanky, you could say. They have a smaller, narrower chest and shoulders, along with longer arms and legs, and have a hard time gaining weight, and a short upper body (I’d say they have a harder time gaining weight due to a slightly faster metabolism, in the variation of the normal range of metabolism, of course). Put simply, ectomorphs are just skinny and lanky with less body fat than mesos and endos. Human races that fit this soma are East Africans and South Asians (see Dutton and Lynn, 2015; one of my favorite papers from Lynn for obvious reasons).
Endomorphs are stockier, shorter and have wider hips, along with short limbs, a wider trunk, more body fat and can gain muscular strength easier than the other somas. Thus, endos, being shorter than ectos and mesos, have a lower center of gravity, along with shorter arms. Thus, we should see that these somas dominate strongman competitions and this is what we see. Pure strength competitions are perfect for this type, such as Strongman competitions and powerlifting. Races that generally conform to this type are East Asians, Europeans, and Pacific Islanders (see Dutton and Lynn, 2015).
Finally, we have mesomorphs (the “king” of all of the types). Mesos are more muscular on average than the two others, they have less body fat than endos but more body fat than ectos; they have wider shoulders, chest and hips, a short trunk and long limbs. The most mesomorphic races are West Africans (Malina, 1969), and due to their somatotype they can dominate sprinting competitions; they also have thinner skin folds (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000), and so they would have an easier time excelling at running competitions but not at weightlifting, powerlifting, or Strongman (see Dutton and Lynn, 2015).
These anatomic differences between the races of man are due to climatic adaptations. The somatypic differences Neanderthals and Homo sapiens mirror the somatotype difference between blacks and whites; since Neanderthals were cold-adapted, they were shorter, had wider pelves and could thusly generate more power than the heat-adapted Homo sapiens who had long limbs and narrow pelvis to better dissipate heat. Either way, we can look at the differences in somatotype between races that evolved in Europe and Africa to ascertain the somatotype of Neanderthals—and we also have fossil evidence for these claims, too (see e.g., Weaver and Hublin, 2009; Gruss and Schmitt, 2016)
Now, just because somatotyping, during its conception, was mixed with pseudoscientific views about differing somas having differing psychological types, does not mean that these differences in body type do not have any bearing on sporting performance. We can chuck the “constitutional psychology” aspect of somatotyping and just keep the anthropometric measures, and, along with the knowledge of human biomechanics, we can then discuss, in a scientific manner, why one soma would excel in sport X or why one soma would not excel in sport X. Attempting to argue that since somatotyping began as some crank psuedoscience does not mean that it is not useful today, since we do not ascribe inherent psychological differences to these somas (I’d claim that saying that this soma has a harder time gaining weight compared to that soma is not ascribing a psychological difference to the soma; it is taking physiologically and on average we can see that different somas have different propensities for weight gain).
In her book Straightening the Bell Curve: How Stereotypes about Black Masculinity Drive Research about Race and Intelligence, Hilliard (2012: 21) discusses the pitfalls of somatotyping and how Sheldon attempted to correlate personality measures with his newfound somatotypes:
As a young graduate student, he [Richard Herrnstein] had fallen under the spell of Harvard professor S. S. Stevens, who had coauthored with William Sheldon a book called The Varieties of Temperament: A Psychology of Constitutional Differences, which popularized the concept of “somatotyping,” first articulated by William Sheldon. This theory sought, through the precise measurement and analysis of human body types, to establish correlations comparing intelligence, temperament, sexual proclivities, and the moral worth of individuals. Thus, criminals were perceived to be shorter and heavier and more muscular than morally upstanding citizens. Black males were reported to rank higher on the “masculine component” scale than white males did, but lower in intelligence. Somatotyping lured the impressionable young Herrnstein into a world promising precision and human predictability based on the measuring of body parts.
Though constitutional psychology is now discredited, there may have been something to some of Sheldon’s theories. Ikeda et al (2018: 3) conclude in their paper, Re-evaluating classical body type theories: genetic correlation between psychiatric disorders and body mass index, that “a trans-ancestry meta-analysis of the genetic correlation between psychiatric disorders and BMI indicated that the negative correlation with SCZ supported classical body type theories proposed in the last century, but found a negative correlation between BD and BMI, opposite to what would have been predicted.” (Though it should be noted that SCZ is a, largely if not fully, environmentally-induced disorder, see Joseph, 2017.)
These different types (i.e., the differing limb lengths/body proportions) have implications for sporting performance. Asfaw and A (2018) found that Ethiopian women high jumpers had the highest ectomorph values whereas long and triple jumpers were found to be more mesomorphic. Sports good for ectos are distance running due to their light frame, tennis etc—anything that the individual can use their light frame as an advantage. Since they have longer limbs and a lighter frame, they can gain more speed in the run up to the jump, compared to endos and mesos (who are heavier). This shows why ectos have a biomechanical advantage when it comes to high jumping.
As for mesomorphs, the sports they excel at are weightlifting, powerlifting, strongman, football, rugby etc. Any sport where the individual can use their power and heavier bone mass will they excel in. Gutnik et al (2017) even concluded that “These results suggest with high probability that there is a developmental tendency of change in different aspects of morphometric phenotypes of selected kinds of sport athletes. These phenomena may be explained by the effects of continuous intensive training and achievement of highly sport-defined shapes.” While also writing that mesomorphy could be used to predict sporting ability.
Finally, for endomorphs, they too would excel in weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman, but do on average better since they have different levers (i.e., shorter appendages so they can more weight and a shorter amount of time in comparison to those with longer limbs like ectos).
Thus, different somatotypes excel in different sports. Different races and ethnies have differing somatotypes (Dutton and Lynn, 2015), so these different bodies that the races have, on average, is part of the cause for differences in sporting ability. That somatotyping began as a pseudoscientific endeavor 70 years ago does not mean that it does not have a use in today’s world—because it clearly does due to the sheer amount of papers on the usefulness of somatotyping and relating differences in sporting performance due to somatotyping. For example, blacks have thinner skin folds (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000) which is due to their somatotype, which is then due to the climate their ancestors evolved in.
Somatotyping can show us the anthropometric reasons for how and why certain individuals, ethnies, and races far-and-away dominate certain sporting events. It is completely irrelevant that somatotyping began as a psychological pseudoscience (what isn’t in psychology, am I right?). Understanding anthropometric differences between individuals and groups will help us better understand the evolution of these somas along with how and why these somas lead to increased sporting performance in certain domains. Somatotyping has absolutely nothing to do with “intelligence” nor how morally upstanding one is. I would claim that somatotyping does have an effect on one’s perception of masculinity, and thus more masculine people/races would tend to be more mesomorphic, which would explain what Hilliard (2012) discussed when talking about somatotyping and the attempts to correlate differing psychological tendencies to each type.
Due to evolving in different climates, the different races of Man have differing anatomy and physiology. This, then, leads to differences in sports performance—certain races do better than others in certain bouts of athletic prowess, and this is due to, in large part, heritable biological/physical differences between blacks and whites. Some of these differences are differences in somatotype, which bring a considerable advantage for, say, runners (an ecto-meso, for instance, would do very well in sprinting or distance running depending on fiber typing). This article will discuss differences in racial anatomy and physiology (again) and how it leads to disparities in certain sports performance.
Kerr (2010) argues that racial superiority in sport is a myth. (Read my rebuttal here.) In his article, Kerr (2010) attempts to rebut Entine’s (2000) book Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It. In a nutshell, Kerr (2010) argues that race is not a valid category; that other, nongenetic factors play a role other than genetics (I don’t know if anyone has ever argued if it was just genetics). Race is a legitimate biological category, contrary to Kerr’s assertions. Kerr, in my view, strawman’s Entine (2002) by saying he’s a “genetic determinist”, but while he does discuss biological/genetic factors more than environmental ones, Entine is in no way a genetic determinist (at least that’s what I get from my reading of his book, other opinions may differ). Average physical differences between races are enough to delineate racial categories and then it’s only logical to infer that these average physical/physiological differences between the races (that will be reviewed below) would infer an advantage in certain sports over others, while the ultimate cause was the environment that said race’s ancestors evolved in (causing differences in somatotype and physiology).
Black athletic superiority has been discussed for decades. The reasons are numerous and of course, this has even been noticed by the general public. In 1991, half of the respondents of a poll on black vs. whites in sports “agreed with the idea that “blacks have more natural physical ability,“” (Hoberman, 1997: 207). Hoberman (1997) of course denies that there is any evidence that blacks have an advantage over whites in certain sports that come down to heritable biological factors (which he spends the whole book arguing). However, many blacks and whites do, in fact, believe in black athletic superiority and that physiologic and anatomic differences between the races do indeed cause racial differences in sporting performance (Wiggins, 1989). Though Wiggins (1989: 184) writes:
The anthropometric differences found between racial groups are usually nothing more than central tendencies and, in addition, do not take into account wide variations within these groups or the overlap among members of different races. This fact not only negates any reliable physiological comparisons of athletes along racial lines, but makes the whole notion of racially distinctive physiological abilities a moot point.
This is horribly wrong, as will be seen throughout this article.
|Data from Malina, (1969: 438)||n||Mesomorph||Ectomorph||Endomorph|
|Data from Malina (1969: 438)||Blacks||Whites|
|Thin-build body type||8.93||5.90|
|Submedium fatty development||48.31||29.39|
|Fat and very fat categories||9.09||21.06|
This was in blacks and whites aged 6 to 11. Even at these young ages, it is clear that there are considerable anatomic differences between blacks and whites which then lead to differences in sports performance, contra Wiggins (1989). A basic understanding of anatomy and how the human body works is needed in order to understand how and why blacks dominate certain sports over whites (and vice versa). Somatotype is, of course, predicated on lean mass, fat mass, bone density, stature, etc, which are heritable biological traits, thus, contrary to popular belief that somatotyping holds no explanatory power in sports today (see Hilliard, 2012).
One variable that makes up somatotype is fat-free body mass. There are, of course, racial differences in fat mass, too (Vickery, Cureton, and Collins, 1988; Wagner and Heyward, 2000). Lower fat mass would, of course, impede black excellence in swimming, and this is what we see (Rushton, 1997; Entine, 2000). Wagner and Heyward (2000) write:
Our review unequivocally shows that the FFB of blacks and whites differs significantly. It has been shown from cadaver and in vivo analyses that blacks have a greater BMC and BMD than do whites. These racial differences could substantially affect measures of body density and %BF. According to Lohman (63), a 2% change in the BMC of the body at a given body density could, theoretically, result in an 8% error in the estimation of %BF. Thus, the BMC and BMD of blacks must be considered when %BF is estimated.
While Vickery, Cureton, and Collins (1988) found that blacks had thinner skin folds than whites, however, in this sample, somatotype did not explain racial differences in bone density, like other studies (Malina, 1969), Vickery, Cureton, and Collins (1988) found that blacks were also more likely to be mesomorphic (which would then express itself in racial differences in sports).
Hallinan (1994) surveyed 32 sports science, exercise physiology, biomechanics, motor development, motor learning, and measurement evaluation textbooks to see what they said racial differences in sporting performance and how they explained them. Out of these 32 textbooks, according to Wikipedia, these “textbooks found that seven [textbooks] suggested that there are biophysical differences due to race that might explain differences in sports performance, one [textbook] expressed caution with the idea, and the other 24 [textbooks] did not mention the issue.” Furthermore, Strklaj and Solyali (2010), in their paper “Human Biological Variation in Anatomy Textbooks: The Role of Ancestry” write that their “results suggest that this type of human variation is either not accounted for or approached only superficially and in an outdated manner.”
It’s patently ridiculous that most textbooks on the anatomy and physiology of the human body do not talk about the anatomic and physiologic differences between racial and ethnic groups. Hoberman (1997) also argues the same, that there is no evidence to confirm the existence of black athletic superiority. Of course, many hypotheses have been proposed to explain how and why blacks are at an inherent advantage in sport. Hoberman (1997: 269) discusses one, writing (quoting world record Olympian in the 400-meter dash, Lee Evans):
“We were bred for it [athletic dominance] … Certainly the black people who survived in the slave ships must have contained the highest proportion of the strongest. Then, on the plantations, a strong black man was mated with a strong black woman. We were simply bred for physical qualities.”
While Hoberman (1997: 270-1) also notes:
Finally, by arguing for a cultural rather than a biological interpretation of “race,” Edwards proposed that black athletic superiority results from “a complex of societal conditions” that channels a disproporitionate number of talented blacks into athletic careers.
The fact that blacks were “bred for” athletic dominance is something that gets brought up often but has little (if any) empirical support (aside from just-so stories about white slavemasters breeding their best, biggest and strongest black slaves). The notion that “a complex of societal conditions” (Edwards, 1971: 39) explains black dominance in sports, while it has some explanatory power in regard to how well blacks do in sporting competition, it, of course, does not tell the whole story. Edwards (1978: 39) argues that these complex societal conditions “instill a heightened motivation among black male youths to achieve success in sports; thus, they channel a proportionately greater number of talented black people than whites into sports participation.” While this may, in fact, be true, this does nothing to rebut the point that differences in anatomic and physiologic factors are a driving force in racial differences in sporting performance. However, while these types of environmental/sociological arguments do show us why blacks are over-represented in some sports (because of course motivation to do well in the sport of choice does matter), they do not even discuss differences in anatomy or physiology which would also be affecting the relationship.
For example, one can have all of the athletic gifts in the world, one can be endowed with the best body type and physiology to do well in any type of sport you can imagine. However, if he does not have a strong mind, he will not succeed in the sport. Lippi, Favaloro, and Guidi (2008) write:
An advantageous physical genotype is not enough to build a top-class athlete, a champion capable of breaking Olympic records, if endurance elite performances (maximal rate of oxygen uptake, economy of movement, lactate/ventilatory threshold and, potentially, oxygen uptake kinetics) (Williams & Folland, 2008) are not supported by a strong mental background.
Any athlete—no matter their race—needs a strong mental background, for if they don’t, they can have all of the physical gifts in the world, they will not become top-tier athletes in the sport of their choice; advantageous physical factors are imperative for success in differing sports, though myriad variables work in concert to produce the desired effect so you cannot have one without the other. On the other side, one can have a strong mental background and not have the requisite anatomy or physiology needed to succeed in the sport in question, but if he has a stronger mind than the individual with the requisite morphology, then he probably will win in a head-to-head competition. Either way, a strong mind is needed for strong performance in anything we do in life, and sport is no different.
Echoing what Hoberman (1997) writes, that “racist” thoughts of black superiority in part cause their success in sport, Sheldon, Jayaratne, and Petty (2007) predicted that white Americans’ beliefs in black athletic superiority would coincide with prejudice and negative stereotyping of black’s “intelligence” and work ethic. They studied 600 white men and women to ascertain their beliefs on black athletic superiority and the causes for it. Sheldon, Jayaratne, and Petty (2007: 45) discuss how it was believed by many, that there is a “ perceived inverse relationship between athleticism and intelligence (and hard work).” (JP Rushton was a big proponent of this hypothesis; see Rushton, 1997. It should also be noted that both Rushton, 1997 and Entine, 2000 believe that blacks’ higher rate of testosterone—3 to 15 percent— [Ross et al, 1986; Ellis and Nyborg, 1992; see rebuttal of both papers] causes their superior athletic performance, I have convincingly shown that they do not have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and if they do the difference is negligible.) However, in his book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, Epstein (2014) writes:
With that stigma in mind [that there is an inverse relationship between “intelligence” and athletic performance], perhaps the most important writing Cooper did in Black Superman was his methodological evisceration of any supposed inverse link between physical and mental prowess. “The concept that physical superiority could somehow be a symptom of intellectual superiority became associated with African Americans … That association did not begin until about 1936.”
What Cooper (2004) implied is that there was no “inverse relationship” with intelligence and athletic ability until Jesse Owens blew away the competition at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. In fact, the relationship between “intelligence” and athletic ability is positive (Heppe et al, 2016). Cooper is also a co-author of a paper Some Bio-Medical Mechanisms in Athletic Prowess with Morrison (Morrison and Cooper, 2006) where they argue—convincingly—that the “mutation appears to have triggered a series of physiological adjustments, which have had favourable athletic consequences.”
Thus, the hypothesis claims that differences in glucose conversion rates between West African blacks and her descendants began, but did not end with the sickling of the hemoglobin molecule, where valine is substituted for glutamic acid, which is the sixth amino acid of the beta chain of the hemoglobin molecule. Marlin et al (2007: 624) showed that male athletes who were inflicted with the sickle cell trait (SCT) “are able to perform sprints and brief exercises at the highest levels.” This is more evidence for Morrison and Cooper’s (2006) hypothesis on the evolution of muscle fiber typing in West African blacks.
Bejan, Jones, and Charles (2010) explain that the phenomenon of whites being faster swimmers in comparison to blacks being faster runners can be accounted for by physics. Since locomotion is a “falling-forward cycle“, body mass falls forward and then rises again, so mass that falls from a higher altitude falls faster and forward. The altitude is set by the position of center of mass above the ground for running, while for swimming it is set by the body rising out of the water. Blacks have a center of gravity that is about 3 percent higher than whites, which implies that blacks have a 1.5 percent speed advantage in running whereas whites have a 1.5 percent speed advantage in swimming. In the case of Asians, when all races were matched for height, Asians fared even better, than whites in swimming, but they do not set world records because they are not as tall as whites (Bejan, Jones, and Charles, 2010).
It has been proposed that stereotype threat is part of the reasons for East African running success (Baker and Horton, 2003). They state that many theories have been proposed to explain black African running success—from genetic theories to environmental determinism (the notion that physiologic adaptations to climate, too, drive differences in sporting competition). Baker and Horton (2003) note that “that young athletes have internalised these stereotypes and are choosing sport participation accordingly. He speculates that this is the reason why white running times in certain events have actually decreased over the past few years; whites are opting out of some sports based on perceived genetic inferiority.” While this may be true, this wouldn’t matter, as people gravitate toward what they are naturally good at—and what dictates that is their mind, anatomy, and physiology. They pretty much argue that stereotype threat is a cause of East African running performance on the basis of two assertions: (1) that East African runners are so good that it’s pointless to attempt to win if you are not East African and (2) since East Africans are so good, fewer people will try out and will continue the illusion that East Africans would dominate in middle- and long-distance running. However, while this view is plausible, there is little data to back the arguments.
To explain African running success, we must do it through a systems view—not one of reductionism (i.e., gene-finding). We need to see how the systems in question interact with every part. So while Jamaicans, Kenyans, and Ethiopians (and American blacks) do dominate in running competitions, attempting to “find genes” that account for success n these sports seems like a moot point—since the whole system is what matters, not what we can reduce the system in question to.
However, there are some competitions that blacks do not do so well in, and it is hardly discussed—if at all—by any author that I have read on this matter. Blacks are highly under-represented in strength sports and strongman competitions. Why? My explanation is simple: the causes for their superiority in sprinting and distance running (along with what makes them successful at baseball, football, and basketball) impedes them from doing well in strength and strongman competitions. It’s worth noting that no black man has ever won the World’s Strongest Man competition (indeed the only African country to even place—Rhodesia—was won by a white man) and the causes for these disparities come down to racial differences in anatomy and physiology.
I discussed racial differences in the big four lifts and how racial differences in anatomy and physiology would contribute to how well said race performed on the lift in question. I concluded that Europeans and Asians had more of an advantage over blacks in these lifts, and the reasons were due to inherent differences in anatomy and physiology. One major cause is also the differing muscle fiber typing distribution between the races (Alma et al, 1986; Tanner et al, 2002; Caesar and Henry, 2015 while blacks’ fiber typing helps them in short-distance sprinting (Zierath and Hawley, 2003). Muscle fiber typing is a huge cause of black athletic dominance (and non-dominance). Blacks are not stronger than whites, contrary to popular belief.
I also argued that Neanderthals were stronger than Homo sapiens, which then had implications for racial differences in strength (and sports). Neanderthals had a wider pelvis than our species since they evolved in colder climes (at the time) (Gruss and Schmidt, 2016). With a wider pelvis and shorter body than Homo sapiens, they were able to generate more power. I then implied that the current differences in strength and running we see between blacks and whites can be used for Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, thusly, evolution in differing climates lead to differences in somatotype, which eventually then lead to differences in sporting competition (what Baker and Horton, 2003 term “environmental determinism” which I will discuss in the context of racial differences in sports in the future).
Finally, blacks dominate the sport of bodybuilding, with Phil Heath dominating the competition for the past 7 years. Blacks dominate bodybuilding because, as noted above, blacks have thinner skin folds than whites, so their striations in their muscles would be more prevalent, on average, at the same exact %BF. Bodybuilders and weightlifters were similar in mesomorphy, but the bodybuilders showed more musculature than the bodybuilders whereas the weightlifters showed higher levels of body fat with a significant difference observed between bodybuilders and weightlifters in regard to endomorphy and ectomorphy (weightlifters skewing endo, bodybuilders skewing ecto, as I have argued in the past; Imran et al, 2011).
To conclude, blacks do dominate American sporting competition, and while much ink has been spilled arguing that cultural and social—not genetic or biologic—factors can explain black athletic superiority, they clearly work in concert with a strong mind to produce the athletic phenotype, no one factor has prominence over the other; though, above all, if one does not have the right mindset for the sport in question, they will not succeed. A complex array of factors is the cause of black athletic dominance, including muscle fibers, the type of mindset, anatomy, overall physiology and fat mass (among other variables) explain the hows and whys of black athletic superiority. Cultural and social explanations—on their own—do not tell the whole story, just as genetic/biologic explanations on their own would not either. Every aspect—including the historical—needs to be looked at when discussing the dominance (or lack thereof) in certain sports along with genetic and nongenetic factors to see how and why certain races and ethnies excel in certain sports.