The third rail

Greg Laden recently wrote about how “When black people run, white people take notice.  When black people run fast, white people, alarmed, find naturalistic (= as in animals) explanations.  But when a group of white people excell (beach volley ball or gymnastics) personal stories of heroics are used to explain the result.”  He’s criticising the distortion that leads to scientific researchers looking for a genetic cause for athletic excellence, which is driven by and in turn feeds the simplified racial models of popular culture.

And he’s hit a huge brawl in the comments, over his discussion of the social construction of race.  I lack the patience to disentangle what is going on here, but I’m reminded of Gould’s 1981 book, The Mismeasure of Man, which was simultaneously a good lay introduction to factor analysis and a forthright attack on biological determinism.  In 1996, never one to dodge a political controversy, Gould updated the book to deliver a savage attack on the then-popular conclusions of The Bell Curve.

I notice here that there seems to be no discussion of the science in his original posting at all, but there’s certainly plenty of discussion.  Race remains a third rail in American society and American bloggers–even fully qualified biological anthropologists like Greg–go there at their peril.

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