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M Swanepoel
04-21-1998, 02:27 AM
Hello All,

This letter was sparked by a private reply sent to me concerning a
biomechanical study. I am worried by the use of racial criteria for
biomechanical studies, not because I am afraid that scientists will
indulge in racism, but because it is extremely likely to be a red herring in most
studies. Use of terms such as "blacks", "Caucasians" and "Asians"
are almost meaningless, because of their generality. There is an
increasing awareness of the fact that mankind constitutes a genetic
continuum, that is extremely diverse and yet also has almost no gaps within it.

"Caucasians" for example consist of many, many different types of people,
both phenotypically and genotypically, including people of semitic
stock, the peoples of the Mediterranean Greek, Italian and Iberian
peninsulae, those of Germanic stock, Lapps, Siberians, Nordic people
etc. Likewise "blacks" includes the Nilotic peoples of the southern Sudan,
the Ethiopian peoples of the Horn of Africa, the negroid peoples of West
Africa, the Nguni people of Southern Africa, the San people of the
Kalahari, the Congolese pygmies ....need I go on?!

Superficial differences between groups are outweighed by physical
differences between individuals within the groups. Differences which
may be found in biomechanical studies would have to take into account
differences in diet, sporting activities, social behaviour and perhaps even such
things as whether people grow their own crops, grind their own flour
and make their own bread!

There is considerable doubt as to whether "race" is a
meaningful concept at all! Where does one race end in the genetic
spectrum, and another start? If we cannot define race in any
meaningful way, then the concept of race is surely fallacious, both
in law and in science. If, on the other hand, we wish to ascertain
that shallow acetabular cups are associated with hip joint
osteoarthrosis, and that this has a genetic cause, then do we need
race anyway? Surely the concept of "race" does not enhance our
studies? With due respect to the individual who made the comment,
and with NO desire to cause any anger or hurt, an assertion that "blacks
are more athletic" (than "whites" and "Asians"), is surely meaningless
and worthless for the science of biomechanics?!

Mark Swanepoel
University of the Witwatersrand

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