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Debunking "How to Argue with a Racist" by Adam Rutherford, Part 3
In part 3 of his book, Rutherford non-sequiturs his way to stating that race differences in sport are merely "cultural".
The key argument in part 3 of Rutherford’s book, How to Argue with a Racist, is that race differences in athletic achievement, particularly black achievement in Olympic sprinting and marathon running, is predominantly cultural, because the current understanding of the genetics is “complex” and the best individual genes that relate to sprinting and running explain little to none of the differences in performance between the races.
This is, of course, a non-sequitur based on a strawman. “Racists say that black-white differences in athletic achievement are due to black-white differences in gene pools. But this single gene is related to marathon running and Chinese people have the highest frequency of the good version! Therefore the differences in achievement are cultural.” The straw-man is that the argument hereditarians use concerns only a single gene that Rutherford cherry-picked. The non-sequitur is that it follows that the differences must be “cultural” after it is shown that this single gene can’t explain black-white differences in athletic achievement.
I am not misrepresenting Rutherford’s “argument” here. The above paragraph is all you need to see this.
Taking a broader view of the chapter, and placing it in the context of the book as a whole, Rutherford repeats the dirty tactics he used in part 1 and 2 of his book: dishonestly complexifying and cherrypicking data. He is presenting a false case, so he must either fabricate facts, or omit facts. This means unless he wants to get called out for making stuff up, he has to present a subset of the information that actually exists to the reader. Thus like in the last 2 parts, he discusses only 2 genes when assessing 2 polygenic traits. Polygenic traits, like athleticism and IQ, often have thousands of contributing genes. Any one gene is bound to only explain a tiny fraction of the variance of that trait, even though the heritability of the trait as a whole is greater than 80%.
Rutherford’s case here is precisely analogous to claiming that race differences in intelligence are purely cultural because one of the thousands of genes that contribute to human intelligence differences doesn’t vary between the races in frequency.
This of course neglects the fact that when the many of thousands of genes that contribute to differences in IQ are considered, we do indeed find the genetic race differences we would expect given that race differences in intelligence are predominantly genetic in origin. Above is a chart from Piffer 2019 showing that average EDU3 polygenic scores predict average IQs of a population at r = 0.86. Polygenic scores are simply numbers that predict traits based on thousands of SNPs (single nucleotide locations in DNA that vary among people) that have been found to be associated with a trait in question. In other words, they use information related to thousands of genes to predict a trait, such as IQ or athleticism. It doesn’t suffice to just look at one gene when it comes to polygenic traits. But this is precisely what Rutherford did. How is this man an “expert,” exactly?
We have covered Rutherford’s severe methodological deficiencies. Now, like the last two times, let’s try to fill in the facts he missed.
Athletic capacity is, unsurprisingly, about 50% heritable. But this is from a sample where athletic environments vary. Your V02max or V02peak can change a lot if you are out of shape, starving, or an in shape runner with a good diet and training regimen. The decision of someone to exercise is in itself going to be heritable, but it can also be a fact of their environment, particularly their economic or exousiological environment. For example, when Hitler came to power in Germany, he implemented exercise mandates for young people. The distribution of German VO2peak and VO2maxes therefore changed without any change in the average gene pool. It is conceivable that, for identical twins raised apart, one might live in a community where sports are a really big deal, for example a small town in the midwest. The other might live somewhere where the emphasis is on scholarship, like a coastal city with a lot of intellectual opportunities. Their exousiological-economic environments vary, and so the former twin will probably exercise more and have a better athletic phenotype than the latter twin, lowering the heritability of the trait.
This is great, but does this reflect what happens when you offer millions of dollars and fame to whoever can beat the world record in sprinting or the marathon? When perhaps hundreds or more people from each biological race show up to try to win the prize, each working very, very hard to do so? When one biological race dominates the pool of prize winners, we are almost certainly looking at a genetic difference, because the environments of the competitors are basically equal, and the competitors are sufficiently drawn from the best of each race.
Actually, it would seem that the African long distance runners might have worse environments than the white competitors. They practice less. They come from poorer countries. They should be “oppressed” and therefore underperforming, according to Rutherford’s worldview. But they still dominate long distance running. Why can’t they dominate Nobel Prize winning in the same way?
Putting genes aside for a moment, there are relevant, average phenotypic differences between the races.
East Africans dominate long distance running, and West Africans dominate sprinting. It just so happens that East Africa is a highland and has less oxygen than lowlands. East Africans have, on average, more slow twitch muscle fibers than other races. Is this because of culture?
It is nearly certain that East African domination in long distance running is genetic in nature.
We can now move on to West African and American black domination in sprinting events. This is slightly more controversial as it has been hypothesized that slavery bread certain American blacks to be more athletic. Rutherford lambasts this idea in his book like any activist would and points out that at least two people were fired in the late 20th century from their jobs as American sports commentators for suggesting this idea. At least one black athlete has also suggested this idea publicly, but of course he was not canceled.
Rutherford does not discuss, of course, if there were in fact attempts to breed slaves to be more powerful. This is a simple historical question. If there was widespread artificial selection for athletic power occurring, and the descendants of enslaved blacks outperform West Africans in sprinting, then it is likely that slavery had something to do with the advantage of the descendants of slaves.
And perhaps American blacks having a wealthier environment than West African helps. But with respect to other races, West Africans probably dominate sprinting because of their genes.
Again looking at phenotypic differences, are the fast twitch muscle fibers found in West Africans cultural? What about their fast knee cap tendon reflex?
We will leave off here. Next time, in part 4, we will finally debunk Rutherford’s argument against the heritability against the black-white IQ gap. If you don’t want to miss it, make sure you subscribe:
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