Anthropology

An Interview with Jon Entine

Author of Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We're Afraid to Talk about It

  with Alexander F. Christensen, Ph.D.

Part 1: Introduction

Alex Christensen: What drew you to the subject of race and sports in the first place?

Jon Entine: Back in 1989, Tom Brokaw and I sliced off a sliver of this controversy in the NBC News documentary Black Athletes: Fact and Fiction. Tom was actually the impetus for the program. Two years before, on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers and the fall of the color barrier in baseball, long-time Dodgers executive Al Campanis was asked to appear on the ABC News program Nightline to talk about his old friend. Campanis had earned a reputation as a good baseball man with a big heart. But that evening on nationwide television, Campanis asserted that blacks were naturally better athletes, but made a number of racist links between black athletes and intelligence. This very public self-immolation ended his career almost immediately. But the brouhaha had a far more profound impact. Campanis managed to touch every raw nerve of racial suspicions and spark a nationwide debate over racial differences and the growing prominence of black athletes.

Later that year, Brokaw was attending a New York Knicks game with director Spike Lee when they got into a friendly debate over the reasons behind black ascendancy in sports. The next day, Tom called together a group of producers to discuss doing a story on this issue. No one, including an African American producer, wanted to do the story; we all believed it was too complicated for television and frankly we feared for our careers if such a story, no matter how carefully produced, provoked negative criticism. However, after thinking about the story, I proposed to Tom that we do an hour documentary instead of a short evening news piece. He readily agreed.

It was a daunting undertaking. Here we were, two prototypical "white men who couldn't jump" tackling a racial controversy that was certain to touch raw nerves. "Friends said 'Don't do it,'" recalls Brokaw. "But I thought that it was important enough to address. Then as the broadcast got near, people came around very quietly and would say to me 'You're doing the right thing.' On the other hand, they didn't want to be associated with it. It was probably as complicated and controversial a story as I've ever gotten involved in, certainly up there with Watergate. There were times right before and after it aired that I worried if the storm would ever die down. Those were delicate moments."

The documentary aired in April 1989, just a few months after another brouhaha over race, when a CBS sports broadcaster, Jimmy "the Greek" Snyder, was fired for saying that blacks were "bred" to be better athletes during slavery. It was generally widely praised--the Denver Post, for example, applauded NBC "for its bold venture, for the willingness to tackle a sensitive subject... and for taking risks in the name of truth-seeking." It also won numerous awards including Best International Sports Film of the year. But it did divide some journalists, sometimes along racial lines. A white columnist at Newsday called it "a step forward in the dialogue on race and sports," while a black colleague at the same daily wrote that "NBC had scientists answer questions that none but a bigot would conjure up." "[Brokaw] utterly ignore[d] the facts in favor of the speculation of several scientists," charged Ralph Wiley in Emerge magazine. "His program played like a badly cast farce."

I put the story to rest, but it kept emerging in the media in one form or another, usually in sports magazines. Then The Bell Curve came along, which raised the question of whether intelligence and athleticism are inversely linked--a conclusion I came to discover was not supported by science. I ended up circulating a book proposal and the rest, as they say, is history. The book appeared in January 2000 with the paperback coming out this spring.

You are a journalist who has written on business subjects in the past. Did you have any background in anthropology before you started researching Taboo?

I've had no formal academic training in anthropology. I've actually written and reported--I was a TV reporter/producer for 18 years--about a wide range of subjects, almost always as a cultural essayist. In some respects, I don't see Taboo as much of a departure in content or style from what I've written about in the past. It required extensive reading, researching and interviewing within the genetics and anthropological communities, but its ultimate intent was to find a bridge between the academic and popular world-view to help understand a complex cultural issue. Even my business writings reflect that perspective. For instance, my articles on ethics have focused on the contradictions of my generation--aging baby boomers--who posture a lot about ethics in business but don't act much different from the generation of 1950s capitalists that they denigrate. I call it "rainforest chic," which is the title of a cover story that I wrote on the phenomenon a number of years ago for Report on Business, the monthly business magazine published by the Toronto Globe and Mail.

In recognition of the complexity of the issues addressed in Taboo--controversial topics in sociology, anthropology, population genetics, and other fields---I submitted drafts of the book for review and comment to a board of advisors and experts drawn from a range of races, professional expertise, and countries. Included are academicians, former Olympic athletes and journalists.

 

Part 2: Why Are There Racial Differences in Sports?

What explains the greater success of athletes of African descent in many sports?

Over the past 30 years, as equality of opportunity has steadily increased in sports, spreading to vast sections of Asia and Africa, equality of results on the playing field has actually declined. Greater opportunity has led to greater inequality in performance at the elite level between ethnic groups in a range of sports.

Blacks of exclusively West African ancestry make up 13 percent of the North American and Caribbean population but 40 percent of Major League Baseball players, 70 percent of the National Football League, and 85 percent of the National Basketball League.

Nigeria, Cameroon, Tunisia, and South Africa have emerged as soccer powers. Africans have also become fixtures in Europe's top clubs even with sharp restrictions on signing foreign players. In England, which was slow to allow foreigners and has a black population of less than 2 percent, one in five soccer players in the Premiership is black.

From Wales to South Africa, rugby has been played almost exclusively by whites because of historical social restrictions and taboos--except in New Zealand where Maori and Pacific Islanders have risen to the top ranks far out of proportion to their numbers. Maori women have also become the stars in netball, which demands extraordinary quickness.

The outsized success of Australian athletes with primarily Aboriginal genes in running, tennis, boxing, and rugby and a recent six-fold surge in the number of Aboriginal players in the Australian Football League.

"Differences among athletes of elite caliber are so small... they are very, very significant," says Robert Malina, Michigan State University anthropologist and editor of the American Journal of Human Biology, who has studied anatomical differences between Olympic level athletes over more than 30 years. "The fraction of a second is the difference between the gold medal and fourth place."

Do genes proscribe possibility in some sports, running most specifically, and are there some population-based patterns? The answer is an indisputable "yes." Scientists have already identified specific genes linked to athletic performance. In one of numerous such studies, Steven Rudich, a transplant surgeon then at the University of California at Davis, demonstrated that a single injection of the EPO gene into the leg muscles of monkeys produced significantly elevated red blood cell levels for 20 to 30 weeks. EPO is a key factor in endurance and is found in some populations more than in others.

Researchers isolating a gene responsible for muscle weakness caused by the debilitating effects of muscular dystrophy may even have stumbled upon a "smoking gun" that bolsters the genetic case for population-linked differences in sprinting capacity. Meanwhile, researchers at the Institute for Neuromuscular Research in Sydney, Australia found that 20 percent of people of Caucasian and Asian background have what they called a "wimp gene," a defective gene that blocks the body from producing a-actinin-3, which provides the explosive power in fast-twitch muscles. Samples drawn from African Bantus, specifically Zulu tribal members, showed that only 3 percent had the wimp gene. Kathryn North, head of the Neurogenetics Research Unit at the New Children's Hospital, speculates that the need for a "speed gene" is dying out because the speed to hunt animals or flee from enemies is no longer necessary for our survival, although it certainly helps in sprinting.

Clearly, many of the phenotypic differences between populations are grounded in the genotype. To what degree these genes confer a competitive advantage on blacks when it comes to stealing bases, running with the football, shooting hoops, or jumping hurdles remains the $64,000 question. Since the first known study of differences between blacks and white athletes in 1928, the data have been remarkably consistent: In most sports, African-descended athletes have the capacity to do better with their raw skills than whites. Blacks with a West African ancestry generally have:

relatively less subcutaneous fat on arms and legs and proportionately more lean body and muscle mass, broader shoulders, larger quadriceps, and bigger, more developed musculature in general;

denser, shallower chests;

higher center of gravity, generally shorter sitting height, narrower hips, and lighter calves;

longer arm span and "distal elongation of segments"-- the hand is relatively longer than the forearm, which in turn is relatively longer than the upper arm; the foot is relatively longer than the tibia (lower leg), which is relatively longer than the thigh;

faster patellar tendon reflex;

greater body density, which is likely due to higher bone mineral density and heavier bone mass at all stages in life, including infancy (despite evidence of lower calcium intake and a higher prevalence of lactose intolerance, which prevents consumption of dairy products);

modestly, but significantly, higher levels of plasma testosterone (3-19 percent), which is anabolic, theoretically contributing to greater muscle mass, lower fat, and the ability to perform at a higher level of intensity with quicker recovery;

a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscles and more anaerobic enzymes, which can translate into more explosive energy.

Relative advantages in these physiological and biomechanical characteristics are a gold mine for athletes who compete in such anaerobic activities as football, basketball, and sprinting, sports in which West African blacks clearly excel. However, they also pose problems for athletes who might want to compete as swimmers (heavier skeletons and smaller chest cavities could be drags on performance) or in cold-weather and endurance sports. Central and West African athletes are more susceptible to fatigue than whites and East Africans, in effect making them relatively poor candidates for aerobic sports.

White athletes appear to have a physique between central West Africans and East Africans. They have more endurance but less explosive running and jumping ability than West Africans; they tend to be quicker than East Africans but have less endurance.

Still, it should not be forgotten that ancestry is not destiny. "From a biomechanical perspective, the answer is 'yes,' race and ethnicity do matter," says Lindsay Carter, a physical anthropologist at San Diego State University who has studied thousands of Olympic-level athletes over the years. "All of the large-scale studies show it, and the data goes back more than a hundred years." But he adds a critical caveat: No individual athlete can succeed without the X factor--the lucky spin of the roulette wheel of genetics matched with considerable dedication and sport smarts. "There are far too many variables to make blanket statements about the deterministic quality of genetics," Carter says. "Nature provides an average advantage, yes. But that says nothing about any individual competitor."

 

Part 3: Not All Africans Are the Same

Of course, not all Africans are alike. You document the different performance of people of East and West African descent, which provides good evidence for differences in physiology and physique. Within these broad categories you highlight the performance of individual groups like the Nandi of Kenya. Why do you think these different populations evolved in such different ways?

This belief that all blacks are "the same" flows from naive conceptions of race. Even many geneticists, who should know better, perpetuate this fallacious view. For instance, in The Bell Curve, the terms "black" and "white" were used casually when in fact almost all of the data on blacks focused on African Americans. There are some data from southern Africa but almost no reliable studies of human differences based on East Africa. Yet genetic testing has shown that forty percent or more of the East African genome reflects interbreeding with whites, particularly Arab slave traders, while the small African population in the north mixed with the Berbers.

The 19th century concept of race based on skin color and defined as "white, yellow, and black" is certainly biologically na‘ve and is a problematic marker of human differences. It is clearly a distortion to lump all who trace their recent origins to Africa under one racial banner known as "blacks."

There are certainly many sub-populations within Africa that are relatively distinct. It's very obvious in comparing body type and physiological differences between some populations in West Africa and East Africa. Many populations of primarily West African ancestry have a much more mesomorphic physique as contrasted with relatively ectomorphic East Africans. These are fuzzy generalizations, however, as a result of human variation in body type. But the patterns do hold up. There are also documented differences in muscle composition: West Africans naturally appear to have a far higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibers, which produce quick energy bursts. East Africans have a far higher percentage of endurance-favoring slow twitch fibers. The lung capacity of West Africans averages about 15 percent less than that of East Africans.

According to scientists, the pool of potential great sprinters is deepest among athletes of West African descent. Claude Bouchard, geneticist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University, found that such populations have a higher percentage of "energy efficient" fast twitch muscle fibers to complement their naturally muscular mesomorphic physiques and other anthropometric advantages.

"West Africans have 70 percent of the fast type muscle fibers when they are born," adds Bengt Saltin, director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Center. "And that's needed for a 100-meter race around 9.9 seconds." No white, Asian or East African has ever cracked ten seconds in the 100. It's no surprise that athletes of primarily West African origin, including African Americans, hold the top 200 and 494 of the top 500 times. In fact, there are more elite sprinters from any one of the largest West African countries--Senegal, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ghana--then from all of Asia and the white populations of the world combined. "The extent of the environment can always be discussed but it's less than 20, 25 percent. It is 'in your genes' whether or not you are talented or whether you will become talented."

East Africans, in contrast, have a near perfect biomechanical package for endurance: lean, ectomorphic physiques, huge natural lung capacity, and a high proportion of slow twitch muscle fibers. It's also a terrible combination for sprinting, which undoubtedly helps explain East Africa's dismal sprinting history. Kenya has tried desperately over the past decade to replicate its wondrous success in distance running at the sprints, but to no avail. The best Kenyan time ever in the 100 meters--10.28 seconds--ranks somewhere near 5,000th on the all-time list.

What's the source of these differences? Although the move out of Africa by modern humans to Europe and Asia occurred rather recently in evolutionary time, scientists now know that in relatively few generations, even small, chance mutations can trigger a chain reaction with cascading consequences resulting in significant racial differences or possibly even the creation of new species. Economic ravages, natural disasters, genocidal pogroms, and geographical isolation caused by mountains, oceans, and deserts, have deepened these differences over time. This is the endless loop of genetics and culture, nature and nurture.

Why did different characteristics evolve in different populations? That's just too speculative a question for me to feel comfortable in answering. I know what scientists know--there are many examples of genetically based physical and physiological differences and those differences have some impact on which populations thrive in what sports.

The prickly reality is that some biologically-based differences do appear to pattern by skin color, which tends to feed folkloric myths. "Africans are naturally, genetically, more likely to have less body fat, which is a critical edge in elite running," notes Joseph Graves, Jr., an African American evolutionary biologist at Arizona State University and author of The Emperor's New Clothes. "Evolution has shaped body types and in part athletic possibilities. Don't expect an Eskimo to show up on an NBA court or a Watusi to win the world weightlifting championship," he adds. "Differences correlate with geography and climate. Endurance runners are more likely to come from East Africa. That's a fact. Genes play a major role in this. The fact that monolithic racial categories do not show up consistently in the genotype does not mean there are no group differences between pockets of populations," adds Dr. Graves. "There are some group differences. It varies by characteristic. We see it in diseases. But that's a long way from reconstructing century old racial science."

Although blacks are more likely than other populations to have the sickle cell trait, blacks who have evolved in cooler climates are no more likely to have the gene than any others. Although many blacks are lactose intolerant, a result of the utter lack of milk producing animals in much of sub-Saharan Africa, the Masai, with their tradition of cow and goat herding, are perfectly able to digest milk products. The Lemba, an African tribe whose Y-chromosomes are closely linked to Jews from the Middle East, are nonetheless categorized as "black" purely on the basis of a sloppy marker, skin color. Many phenotypes and virtually all complex phenomena such as intelligence and behaviors such as the penchant for violence do not fall into neat folkloric categories.

 

Part 4: Other Sports?

Are there any sports that people from other parts of the world may be better suited to?

As Taboo points out, we can observe distinct genetically based phenotypic differences on display in world athletics. "As scientists continue to study the complex interactions between genes and the environment, population-based genetic differences will continue to surface," notes University of Kansas molecular biologist Michael Crawford, past president of the Human Biology Association. "It's time we dispense with the notion that athleticism or human differences in general are entirely due only to biology or only to culture."

Although human variation in body type is immense, whites of Eurasian ancestry are more likely to have an endomorphic physique. The world's top weightlifters and wrestlers live in or trace their ancestry from a swath of Eurasia, from Bulgaria through upper Mongolia. The original inhabitants of this region likely arrived some 40,000 or so years ago. Evolutionary forces in this northern clime have shaped a population with a mesomorphic body type--large and muscular, particularly in the upper body, with relatively short arms and legs and thick torsos. These proportions tend to be an advantage, particularly in sports in which strength rather than speed is at a premium. For example, Naim Suleymanoglu, the 4-foot, 11-inch Turkish weightlifter, is considered the greatest in the history of the sport. This region also turns out an extraordinary number of top field athletes-javelin throwers, shot-putters, and hammer throwers. Forty-six of the top 50 male hammer throwers of all time and 43 of the top 50 female shot-putters trace their primary ancestry to the Slavonic countries and southern Eurasia.

Where flexibility and dexterity are key, East Asians shine, such as in diving and some skating and gymnastic events. Their body types tend to be small with relatively short extremities, long torsos, and a thicker layer of fat--a scaled down mixture of mesomorphic and endomorphic characteristics. As a result, athletes from this region are somewhat slower and less strong than whites or blacks, but more flexible on average. "Chinese splits," a rare maneuver demanding extraordinary flexibility, has roots in this anthropometric reality. It's a key skill set for martial arts, which of course also are rooted in Asian traditions. Those anthropometric realities circumscribe Asian possibilities in jumping: Not one Asian male or female high jumper makes the top 50 all-time. Many scientists believe this distinctive body type evolved as adaptations to harsh climes encountered by bands of Homo sapiens who migrated to Northeast Asia about 40,000 years ago. The excavation of an abundance of precise tools in Asia, including needles for sewing clothes to survive cold winters, has led scientists to speculate that Asians were "programmed" over time to be more dexterous. Studies indicate that East Asians do have the quickest reaction time of modern human populations, which some have speculated may play a role in Asian domination of table tennis.

The cluster of islands that straddle the international date line in the South Pacific, including Samoa and American Samoa, have funneled hundreds of players into American football and Australian rugby. Polynesia is a hotbed of human biodiversity. Polynesians, especially the Samoans, are amongst the world's most mesomorphic body types. A number of studies have shown that muscle bulk and the degree of muscularity especially in the thigh and buttock are important predictors of success in rugby players whereas the opposite applies in such sports as distance running. This genetic admixture helps explain why athletes from this region are large, agile, and fast.

These are certainly a few of the athletic "hotspots" in the world today and we will no doubt identify more over time. There is a feedback loop between genetics and culture in which small but measurable differences in anatomy become encoded in social stereotypes, greatly magnifying these small differences. We see that today in basketball (dominated by blacks of West African ancestry), distance running (dominated by East Africans), and weight lifting (dominated by Eurasian whites). As the world's playing field becomes level, and talent begins to trump opportunity, it is certainly possible that we will see more hotspots emerging in different sports.

Despite these patterned differences, in anatomy and sports performance, we have to remind ourselves that social and cultural factors can sometimes wash out genetic distinctions. It was not too many years ago when it was widely assumed that blacks were too frail and not coordinated enough to compete in baseball, basketball, and football.

It is critical that we move away from traditional "racial" categories based on skin color and facial characteristics to a broader notion of human biodiversity. Scientists now isolate groups based on genotypic patterns--gene frequencies and proteins--rather than purely phenotypic characteristics. Geneticists and anthropologists, rightly concerned about the historical misuse of the race concept, have come up with more refined definitions of human groups to help separate that racist chaff from the DNA wheat. For instance, Stanford University geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza calls them “populations" or "sub-populations" while University of Michigan anthropologist Loring Brace prefers the term "clusters." Their meaning is the same: Based on the characteristics or set of phenotypes being analyzed, there are many examples of patterned biological differences.

The great paradox of human biodiversity research, which is focused on finding the genetic basis to many diseases, is that the only way to understand how similar humans are is to learn how we differ. If there were no patterned biological differences, the entire Human Genome Project would be rendered meaningless. It is well known in medicine that even tiny genetic differences between populations, which show up in gene sequences and protein arrangement, can have powerful health consequences.

For instance, northern European whites are more likely to contract multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis as a result of their genetic history. Blacks are genetically more predisposed than others to colon and rectal cancers. Ashkenazi (European) Jews are 100 times more likely to contract Tay-Sachs, a degenerative neurological disorder, than other ethnic groups are because of their relative genetic insularity until the second half of the 20th century. The Pima Indians have one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world. Population frequencies of many polymorphic genes vary with population clusters. A condition called primaquine sensitivity is responsible for the intensity of the reaction to certain drugs among African, Mediterranean, and Asian men. Another mutated gene accounts for the sensitivity of the Japanese to alcohol. Other genetic polymorphisms (found in specific population groups) are associated with sensitivity to certain foods, type one diabetes, QT syndrome (a heart disease), asthma, thrombophilia (bleeding disorder), and an inability to metabolize common drugs like codeine, beta-blockers and antidepressants. Jews, Finns, Sardinians, and Basques are examples of groups with small, historically insular populations, who have distinctive genetic pedigrees. These are all "racial" differences of a kind. By contrast, most other people of European origin are so genetically mixed that it's impossible to tell a German from a Frenchman.

Humans are different. While genes proscribe possibility, humans are individuals and subject to cross currents of biological and social factors that are complexly intertwined. In athletics, genes circumscribe innate possibility, not innate talent.

 

Part 5: Is Talking about Differences Racist?

For much of our history, racial differences and physical differences between men and women were assessed in words of superiority and inferiority. Do you think we have reached the stage where we can talk about "racial" differences without being racist?

There exists a blurry line between a healthy fascination about human differences and a white obsession, between an interest in race and promoting racism. No question about that. And as you know, Taboo does not shirk from examining the racist historical context of so-called race science. I believe the reaction to the book suggests that it is very difficult to discuss race without offending someone.

Intriguingly, the reception to the book broke down along racial lines (to some degree) but not the way most people, including I, would have anticipated. The best reaction has come from black journalists and scholars (with some notable exceptions). In preparing the book, I submitted the manuscript for review to a board of advisors and experts drawn from a range of races, professional expertise, and countries. "You will be accused of spouting old fashioned racism for even raising the issue of African American superiority in athletics," wrote board member Earl Smith, Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Ethnic Studies at Wake Forest University, a leading black scholar and author of several books on race and sports. "All this beating around the bush has to stop. This is a good book. I am quite excited with the arguments that are raised." Dr. Smith ultimately offered to write the preface.

It soon became apparent that many blacks have become irritated to the point of anger by the patronizing censorship and condescension of some white journalists and academicians who believed that even discussing racial differences was racist. "I am an editorial columnist," wrote Bill Maxwell of the St. Petersburg Times in a personal note to me. "I reviewed your book because I enjoyed reading it. It cut through all of the bullshit. I am black."

"Taboo is both provocative and informed," added John Walter, professor of American Ethnic studies and director of the Blacks in Sports Project at the University of Washington, in the Seattle Times. "Entine has provided a well-intentioned effort for all to come clean on the possibility that black people might just be superior physically [for the record, Taboo asserts not superiority but anatomical differences between populations, a crucial distinction], and that there is no negative connection between that physical superiority and their IQs."

Black scholars were particularly taken by the focus on black sports history, including the illumination of the scholar-athlete tradition among African Americans. The editor of the Journal of the African American Male called it "compelling, bold, comprehensive, informative, enlightening." Paul Ruffins, former editor of NAACP's Crisis magazine, wrote in the Washington Post that "Taboo is an informed exploration of a fascinating phenomenon. Because it bravely tackles the exhaustive list of ideas that must be considered in any open-minded discussion of this topic, Taboo could well be the most intellectually demanding sports book ever written." "The real value of the book," noted Brian Gilmore, a reviewer on Africana.com, "is its willingness to address racist thought in the context of the black athlete and seek an honest dialogue on the topic."

Other reviewers, particularly white social science academics, seemed less interested in honest dialogue and more focused on whether blacks might be offended by the topic, a view which proved unfounded. One sports history professor denounced the book at a conference on race, before confessing that he had not read what he was condemning. "I wouldn't read a book that suggested that there are meaningful racial differences," he asserted defiantly.

Race is to America what the Goddess Discord was to Homeric legends: Invite her to the banquet and she brings trouble with her, ignore her and she visits trouble on you. From Thomas Jefferson's words, "all men are created equal" to "separate but equal," and from "equality of opportunity" to "equality of outcome," the subject of race refuses to vanish from our national life. As anthropologist Vincent Sarich noted, "When we discuss issues such as race, it pushes buttons and the cerebral cortex just shuts down."

To some degree, Taboo had to scale a wall of political correctness. Dozens of journalists, including such high profile media outlets as ESPN sports, CBS, and the Los Angeles Times, initially refused to even discuss Taboo--as a matter of conscience, some asserted. It was popularly perceived as a skunk in heat. For instance, shortly before it appeared in bookstores, The New York Times Magazine dropped plans to publish an adaptation because the very idea of discussing human differences, not the book itself, seemed to them too hot to handle. "Our reluctant decision to drop it is no reflection of my regard for your work, which remains high," wrote Kyle Crichton, who had championed the article. "In brief, the whole subject worries my editors."

"It is perhaps the existence of these lingering attitudes--still prevalent throughout much of this country--which explains some of the backlash against Taboo's central thesis," wrote Michael Crawford. "While the sections concerning Entine's hypothesis will surely attract the greatest attention, they actually form a relatively small portion of the book," he added. "The majority of Entine's tome is concerned with outlining the origins and history of the 'taboo' itself--the reasons why Americans are reluctant to talk about human differences in general, and athletic differences in particular--, and it is here that Entine is at his best."

Hopefully, the nuanced reaction from blacks and more recently by many scientists suggests that we are maturing in the United States and are able to discuss complex issues in a more thoughtful way. The question is no longer whether these inquiries will continue but in what manner and to what end. Caricaturing population genetics as pseudo-science just devalues legitimate concerns about how this information will be put to use. If we do not welcome the impending onslaught of genetic and anthropological data with open minds, if we are scared to ask and to answer difficult questions, if we lose faith in science, then there is no winner; we all lose.