Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why Not Look at the studies?

So yesterday both Sports Radio and "My Whipping Boy Dori" (tm) were occupied by the comments of Air Force's football coach to the effect of "black people are genetically more athletic than white people". Although I did not hear any hosts agree with this, I heard many callers state some variation of "I played football in college and all the best players were black so it's true" or "I asked my black friends and they thought it was a compliment so it's true".

Now I won't harangue the Sports Radio guys for not challenging the logical fallacy in these statements. But I will pick on Dori becuase he is fond of stating his expertise in statistics as a reason to take him seriously.

Neither of the above statements or experiences says anything about whether black people are on average genetically superior athletes than white people.

The first statement is a fallacy of composition, a very very common intellectual failure among neo-conservatives and the religious right. It mistakes one's personal experience as representative of a greater truth. I race bicycles and no of only one black cyclist. This is directly opposite to the experience of the ex-football player cited above. There are many factors which can make either of our experiences exceptions to the average. This is why studies have a rigerous definition of valid sample sizes. It is also possible that factors other than athleticism are the reason for the disparity, which is why real studies use regression anlysis for cases like this.

The 2nd statement is absurd. Whether or not someone takes it as compliment has no bearing on whether the statement is true. If I am fat 30% body fat and someone tells me I look great I am still fat.

And an expert is statistics would have pointed this out.

More to the point, there have been studies done on this subject. I don't remember all the specifics but if memory serves correctly they agreed that there was no statistically significant difference between black and white athletic potential. There was however a greater incentive for poor people to use sports as a way to make it oput of poverty. The greater average number of blacks in certain sports correlated not to their race genetically but to their economic status and the fact that black people are more likely to be poor. So your gentically gifted black child is more likely to view a football career as their best chance to achieve success wereas the average gentically gifted white child, born into a higher average economic status, would have more options to choose from and forgo the relatively high risk gamble of a professional sports career for a job a white collar job.

It also explains why cycling is predominantly a white sport. It's economic status is insignificant and not worth the risk.