Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

What is going on at the Air Force Academy?

OK gang,

This is a little late in coming (the story first broke on Oct 26) because when I heard it, I assumed it was a history retrospective about something that happened 20 or 30 years ago. Last week the head football coach at the US Air Force Academy announced that the reason his team is not successful was that they did not have enough African American players. To make matters worse, he referred to African Americans as "Afro-Americans." (you see why I thought this was a report from some 70's or 80's retrospective?).

There is a big debate out there among sports writers about whether this guy should be fired or not. I'll just suggest that we see this in the context of the overall culture at the Air Force Academy. There is the problem with evangelical conservatives dominating the religious culture of the Academy. Then there was the rape epidemic that broke out there.

So what we have is a US military academy in which violent misogynists and racists are running around being told they are God's chosen warriors in an apocalyptic conflict between good and evil. And oh by the way the people doing the raping and making the racist comments are the "good guys" according to the evangelicals. I've said before that the Religious right is just the Old South rising again. I think this ongoing mess at the Air Force academy is another little piece of evidence in support of my view.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

The issue about blacks running faster than whites is certainly a thorny one. Certainly, if you just picked a black man and a white man "at random" from the general population, there is no way you could know who would win a 100 meter sprint.

On the other hand, have you ever watched the highest level track meets, such as the Olympics? The finals of the 100 meter dash always consist only of black men. One would be hard-pressed to argue that this is a coincidence. There's a great article about this here .

So on the one hand, this guy is wrong. If he went out on the street and gathered up black men at random, it is unlikely that they would be faster than the athletic white men he already has on his team. But there is something there, something that needs to be approached delicately, something that is not racist to discuss if aproached the right way. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

If one assumes that people with natural athletic ability are randomly scattered among the population, you could produce the results we see today if certain natural athletes who were white developed their talents for skating, baseball, etc., while certain natural athletes who were black went into track and field events. I would look for sociological explanations before genetic ones. Without actual genetic science (i.e., the ability to match genes with performance) any argument about genetics is just a filler for lack of any other, better, explanation.

This is even bracketing, for the moment, the arguments about what "race" is. 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

I would be interested in seeing a study on the matter. But it's so hard to do because to mention the issue is perceived as being racist. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

All the arguments about the supposed African American athletic superiority are based on a simple correlation with little beyond the most superficial examination into causal mechanisms.

I'll add another wrinkle to the correlation argument. The reason there is a high correlation between skin color and professional/high level college atheletes is selection bias. White children - EVEN NATURAL ATHLETES - have other options with higher chances of yielding prosperity. African American kids - EVEN KIDS WHO NEED TO WORK HARDER TO BE GOOD AT SPORTS - have fewer options.

In the early days of professional sports basketball and boxing were dominated by Jewish and Irish immigrants. Football and Baseball had large numbers of Germans, Poles, Italians etc. Honas Wagner, Babe Ruth and Lou Gherig were all the children of German immigrants. Are we to conclude that Germans are better baseball players? Certainly modern fans would say that Spanish speaking Carribeans are better.

Poverty drives people to attempt careers with a low probability of success because the careers with high chances of sucess are largely closed to them.

I'm not saying only African Americans go into sports. Nor am I saying that no white kids with athletic ability go into sports. I'm saying minorities are more likely than white kids to go into sports as a career (as opposed to a hoby) regardless of athletic ability. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Consider Donovan Bailey. He was a successful businessman who found out fairly late in life that he could run very, very fast. He quit his job to train and broke the world record in the 100 meter dash.

Now you'll tell me that this is just one case, and you'd be right. But the point is this: if you have a natural gift for playing baseball, you may never find out about it. If you're naturally fast, you'll know. You can't teach that kind of speed. And so the fact that "no sprinter the modern world would characterize as white has broken 10 seconds in the 100 meter dash" raises eyebrows for me. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

More than it being just one case, it's not even a case the disputes my causal mechanism. He was free to chose sports after he had already earned enought money to provide for himself. He wasn't chosing between a slim chance of being a pro-athlete and a great chance of being a businessman. He was able to have his cake and eat it too.

I'll elaborate on my proposed theory. Poverty restrict options in a way that encourages betting on a sports career. That is a gamble because even for someone who can run very very fast their chance of achieving professional success is very slim.

Consider the number of truely gifted athletes who have career ending injuries. Consider the many examples of nominally succesfful athletes who make it to "big time" college sports or even the pros for a season or two, blow out a knee and then have no way to make a living.

Building your life around professional atheletics is a huge gamble even for those who are in the top 1% of athletic ability. I'm arguing that poor people are more likely to take that gamble. The case you mention is "the exception that proves the rule" becase for him it was no gamble at all.

After you admit I've convinced you that this guy is just wrong about his assumptions, I'd like to return to the social implications of having a military that is more religious, more conservative, more sexist and more racist than the rest of society. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Why couldn't he have just kept his mouth shut? It blows me away to think that there are still people running things out there. How about a new rule: Talk to ANYONE "on the record", keep your racial attitudes to yourself. 

// posted by Steve

Anonymous said...

Is the guy wrong? Yes, he's wrong. It's stupid to suggest that just by adding black guys to your team, that your team will get faster. Absolutely.

But I still don't think that your poverty mechanism can explain the fact that no white person has ever broken 10 seconds in the 100 meter dash. First off, going into track and field is not exactly hitting the lottery -- there isn't nearly as much money involved as other sports. Second, even college students have broken 10 seconds in the 100 meter dash. So it's not like you have to gamble on making a career out of it to do this. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

One might also want to discuss the social implications of having an academia that is so much more left-wing than the rest of the country. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

Your statement that track and field is even less likely to produce a prosperous career than other sports just makes my prediction even stronger for that sport than others.

As for left wing academia...yep, we could. Let's have post about it.

But academics don't have guns. It is particularly alarming in a democratic society that the military has such divergent views from society as a whole and that the military is increasingly associated with partisan support for one party over the other. That's a dangerous development for a democracy.

Radical Left Comparative Literature professors aren't nearly as alarming. 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

Um, I don't want to get involved in a serious throwdown trash-talk here...
Ok, I kid. Of course I do.

Here's my bit: RbR has an appealing argument for why black Americans are more prevalent in all sorts of athletics than white Americans. But the argument doesn't extend well to the rest of the world. The non-American sprinting stars are African or of African extraction outside of the US. By the "poverty encourages sports" principle, you'd expect Indians, Asians, and non-black South Americans to be on that "under 10 seconds" list too. Not to mention some of the less-than-well-off non-black Europeans.

One can argue cultural differences that either reduce the appeal of athletics in some of those countries, or provide other opportunities for the poor, but the argument only goes so far. South America has the best soccer players in the world, from several countries. You'd expect some of the kids from those cultures to run a pretty mean 100 meters.

I think Bell Curve is right in observing that there's a phenomenon there, and a sociological explanation isn't wholly convincing. More than that is hard to say.

-----------------------------------

It doesn't seem like this was what the original post was about, namely "...the social implications of having a military that is more religious, more conservative, more sexist and more racist than the rest of society." However, it is relevant insofar as it raises the question of how racist the military, specifically the Air Force Academy, specifically their football coach, actually is.

Having a military whose ranks are more conservative, in the sense of being more militarist, and more accepting of violence and death as a solution, seems to me to be an inevitable consequence of having a voluntary force. Unfortunately, recent scandals indicate that our military (and in particular, the Air Force Academy) is plagued with unacceptable religious intolerance and sexual chauvinism.

However, our military has addressed racial inequality head on, and met that challenge considerably sooner and better than many other American institutions. It has proven capable of tackling its own discrimination, and I think (if there were acceptance of diversity and insistence of reform at the Commander-in-Chief level) it could do so again. 

// posted by Bob

Dr. Strangelove said...

Bell Curve: the problem with the statement by the head football coach of the USAF Academy was not that he pointed out that the proportion of African Americans in certain sports is unusually high. The problem was that he blamed his team's loss on that fact.

The subtext of the coach's remarks was that somehow the presence of blacks on the opposing team was unfair to the white men on his USAF Academy team. The implication is that white men should not be expected to be able to compete against black men because of inherent genetic differences. Saying that one's team lost because the opposing team had "Afro-American" players rather than "better" players (or perhaps a better coach?) implies that those black players owe their skill more to genetics than hard work.

The truth is that--as you observed--whatever marginal difference there may be between the median abilities of the races is completely swamped by the variation within each race. There is no ability that a black man has that a white man might not also have. Every single athlete of that caliber has worked extremely hard to be there.

If one recruits mostly from a single race, rather than recruiting from the entire human pool, one reduces the odds that one will obtain the best players. For a coach to blame his failures on the greater diversity of other teams is putting the cart before the horse.

Anonymous said...

It bears repeating that "race" is a purely social construct, with no basis in genetics. Race is an arbitrary assignment to of a set of physiognomic characteristics. The overwhelming determinant, however, is skin pigmentation. A person with nappy hair, a broad nose, broad lips, and (if a woman) wide hips) would be considered white (or "caucasian") if the skin was more peach than bronze. And a person with a narrow nose, blond hair, etc. would be considered black if the skin were dark. The broad division of the human race into Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid races just has no basis in genetics or even history. Yet skin color is not well correlated to any other set of physical features. This obsession with "race" is new. One of the reasons, for example, that there is such debate as to the race of ancient Egyptians is that they seemed to consider skin color no more crucial than hair color, and it probably went through fads as well, like hair color. The point is that there is no "there" there genetically about race. So, we should start with the idea that race is a social construct. Racism is the belief that any human characteristic (intelligence, moral character, laziness, shiftiness, libido, rhythm, athletic ability) differs, inherently, between one race or another. Racism, it has been said elsewhere, is the use of human physiognomy as a metaphor for personal characteristics.

There is, however, one overwhelming truth to race: for the past 500 years, Europeans and their descendants have meticulously divided up the world and organized their own societies around this construct of race. Indeed, for most of that time, tens of millions of human beings were enslaved on the basis of "race." In the USA, for example, there is a curious set of case law from the pre-Civil-War era about how to deal with a person who is accused of being a runaway slave. The basic result was that if a person "looked black," they would have to prove they were free, but if they "looked white" the burden was on the slaveowner. Issues of mixing of "races" spawned its own massive vocabulary. Mestizo, mulatto, quadroon, octoroon, etc. Race has even created different cultures, accents, and dialects. As we all remember from the O.J. trial, a person can "sound" black. You can dress or "act" your race as well. When an Asian-American refers to someone as a banana (yellow on the outside, white on the inside) we must understand this as a very racist comment, in that it uses race (yellow/white) as a crude shorthand for a whole set of presumed personal and cultural characteristics.

There has been no serious effort anywhere to reverse this trend until about 50 years ago, and it is extremely patchy. As a result, throughout most of the industrialized world, there is no better correlate for wealth, social status, power, prestige, or education than this artificial construct called race (that is all that is demonstrated by the atrocious book called "The Bell Curve," by the way). To this day, when a person is identified, the primary characteristics are race, gender, and age – in that order (e.g., a black male, aged 28…).

Now, having observed all that, what are we to make of the fact that, at elite levels, a disproportionate number of successful runners are black? The first avenue of examination, the most obvious road by far, is to follow the only thing we really know: the well-documented social construction of race and its deep embeddedness in our society. Today, most people realize that the following "facts" can be explained by the social context of race: (1) Most Nobel prize winners are white; (2) Most jazz musicians are black; (3) Most quarterbacks are white; (4) there are almost no black NHL players; (5) there are no black NASCAR drivers.

Why is running different? The reason for singling out runners is the (unfounded) belief that running is a "natural" talent, unlike all the others which are, more obviously, products of socialization, acculturation, and education. That assumption should be severely questioned in light of the evidence. The evidence that some races perform better than others, and the knowledge that race is a social construct, makes a prima facie case that running is not a 100% natural/genetic talent.

Thus, the comment that "speed can't be taught" is likely false. Imagine that natural talent is spread evenly across the races, but training and desire are concentrated in certain groups. That will make a big difference. Simple things such as black track and field athletes being role models for young black men can make a difference (all young men being taught to identify only with those of the same race). We all know that natural talent alone will not make a great runner – that requires years of dedication and training on top of that natural talent. Also nutrition, supplements, and (frequently) steroids. If a disproportionate number of blacks with superb natural talent develop that through training and dedication, you will see that reflected in elite levels. Indeed, the expectation among coaches that blacks will run faster may, itself, be a cause of such behavior. Teachers will all report that students respond to expectations.

 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that my screen name has nothing to do with that reprehensible book. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG writes, "The broad division of the human race into Negroid, Caucasoid, and Mongoloid races just has no basis in genetics or even history."

LTG: are you claiming that if we compared the genetics of a random sample of a few thousand of each of the three races you mention, that there would be no statistically significant differences between the samples?

I do not think you would claim that, since one would expect there must be some minor differences to account for the differences in skin pigmentation, epicanthal folds, etc. And DNA samples can be examined to determine whether the donor was black or white: because of shared inheritance, genetic markers for races exist as though they were very large families.

Of course, if one grouped people by other visual markers--hair or eye color, for example--there may well be other genetic differences there too. But those with different hair color have "interbred" more often than those of different skin color during the past 500 years, for reasons LTG describes well. Thus one would expect subtle variations in those populations to be more evident than in groups that have co-mingled more frequently.

A better question is: do these slight, average genetic differences give rise to any fairly pervasive differences other than the visual markers we use to classify people by "race"? Differing susceptibilities to Tay-Sachs and sickle-cell anemia suggest that there may be more. But the success of black athletes in certain areas (and not others) does not suggest anything, because the social forces are so much stronger.

Anonymous said...

I'm suggesting that the differences within each racial group would overwhelm any differences between them. One reason is that the racial group is socially defined by a handful of superficial characteristics. Imagine if there were a blond "race" or a brown-eyed "race." What would you expect to find in common beyond the traits specifically mentioned? 

// posted by LTG

Anonymous said...

I don't think LTG meant to suggest that our good friend Bell Curve was in anyway connected with the similarly named book or the ideas expressed within. So I'll just say that I don't think Bell Curve is any kind of racist or similarly stunted mind.  

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Anonymous said...

I didn't think he was suggesting that either. But just in case any of our readers took it that way. 

// posted by Bell Curve

Anonymous said...

I merely intended to identify the book "The Bell Curve" by name, not to imply that either the curve itself or anyone identified with that mathematical function is racist.  

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG: I already agreed that the variation within a race was "completely swamped" by variation between races. Nevertheless, genetic variation between "races" exists.

The variation is partly due to the fact that the superficial traits that mark race are derived from original genetic markers. It is also due to the fact that 500 years of (relative) hereditary isolation has subsequently allowed for increased variation. In other words, race is a social constuct so powerful, pervasive, and long-standing that it has surely influenced the gene pool.

What other characteristics would I expect to be systematically different between the races? I mentioned known differences in disease resistance in my earlier post. As for anything else, no I don't know what else might be different, and there's no reason to expect any particular trait.

But given the complexity of the genome and the relative isolation of racial populations, to assert that there definitely are no genetic differences beyond what is immediately visible to the eye--to assert that race is purely a social construct--is well-intentioned but poorly supported.

Anonymous said...

"If one recruits mostly from a single race, rather than recruiting from the entire human pool, one reduces the odds that one will obtain the best players. For a coach to blame his failures on the greater diversity of other teams is putting the cart before the horse. "

In what sense? Do you mean it is ridiculous to argue that opposing schools should un-diversify in order to be fair opponents for the Air Force Academy? Then I agree with you, but I don't think that's what the coach intended. Or do you mean that a coach should not complain about the greater diversity of other teams -- he should strive to diversify the pool of his own potential players? Then I agree with you there also -- and maybe so would the coach.

It is not at all clear to me that the coach's original comments should be interpreted as more akin to "the white kids can't be expected to compete with the black ubermenschen", rather than "this game demonstrated the value of a more diverse student population."

His own views may lie somewhere in between.  

// posted by Bob

Anonymous said...

Dr.S - There is no genetic test to tell what race someone is. It's all a matter of visual judgment. What race are Indonesians? Persians? Mexicans? Samoans? Australian Aborigines? If you move beyond race and start asking about genuine genetic stocks, i.e., Scandinavians vs. West Africans, you might expect to find some variations beyond the visual superficial. And you do, e.g., Tay-Sachs disease or sickle-cell anemia. But it is a long way from these blips to the sorts of major genetic changes needed to produce smarter people or better athletes. Any such genetic variation would have to result in a systematic effect - i.e., that 100 West Africans were always faster than 100 Scandinavians, if chosen at random. In the USA, where there the "African-Americans" are largely of mixed genetic stock (indeed, the only rule was that a drop of African blood made them African) and the whites come from all over Europe, at least, finding differences of this kind will be extremely difficult.

The other thing to note about race is that skin color tells us so little. Racism makes us assume that Ethiopians and Nigerians have more in common with each other than either do with Egyptians, because of skin color. There is no reason to assume they share ANY genetic trait other than skin color, however. A historian would suggest that Ethiopians and Egyptians have much more in common, sharing the Nile and much history and religion in the past.  

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG says two things that puzzle me. First, he says: "There is no genetic test to tell what race someone is."

But then he adds: "If you move beyond race and start asking about genuine genetic stocks, i.e., Scandinavians vs. West Africans, you might expect to find some variations beyond the visual superficial."

I think my confusion with LTG's denial of the genetic component of race stems from the problem that I have been using "race" in a different meaning. To me, "Scandinavians" and "West Africans" are two of the (many) "races" of humans.

It is true that "white" people come from several diferent "genuine genetic stocks", and the same is true for "black" people, "asians", indians, arabs, etc. But this only means that genetic tests need to be more complicated. We all know which of those have white skin and which have black.

Bob: wherever the coach's views may actually lie, I think it is overly charitable to interpret his remarks as innocent praise for diversity. Consider this question: would this coach expect an (almost) all-black college do better than an (almost) all-white college (like his own)? From the coach's remarks, I think you'd have to assume he would say "yes," but I think the real answer is no. One would reasonably expect any college that limits its pool of applicants to do worse than one which does not That's what I was trying to say.

Anonymous said...

Dr. S. writes "It is true that "white" people come from several diferent "genuine genetic stocks", and the same is true for "black" people, "asians", indians, arabs, etc. But this only means that genetic tests need to be more complicated. We all know which of those have white skin and which have black."

OK, you got me intrigued now. Which? 

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

Scandinavians have dark skin while West Africans have pale skin, of course :-)

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