Preposterous Universe

Sunday, October 31, 2004
Genetic superiority

I don't want to linger too long in the already-disturbed hornet's nest of competition, gender, and physics, but I do want to point to some thoughtful articles by Maire that are worth reading: here, here, and here. We're basically on the same wavelength, but she has the patience to get into some of the details.

Whenever anyone is quick to leap from a fact of our current social arrangements (underrepresentation of group X in occupation Y) to a conclusion about biological inevitability (X's just don't have what it takes to succeed in Y), I can't help but think of the SPHA's -- the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association. The SPHA's were a dominant basketball team back in the 1930's. Indeed, at the time a significant percentage of the best basketball players were Jewish. Are we surprised to learn that it was common for people to attribute this success to the intrinsic superiority of Hebrews when it came to the skills of basketball? From Jon Entine, quoted by Michael Shermer:
"The reason, I suspect, that basketball appeals to the Hebrew with his Oriental background," wrote Paul Gallico, sports editor of the New York Daily News and one of the premier sports writers of the 1930s, "is that the game places a premium on an alert, scheming mind, flashy trickiness, artful dodging and general smart aleckness."
Jews were also thought to possess the genetic advantage of being short, enabling them to dart past the gangly Gentiles for easy buckets. Of course, these days we are enlightened enough to realize that it is actually blacks who are genetically predisposed to have game, not those sneaky Hebrews. Progress marches on.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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