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M Swanepoel
04-22-1998, 02:04 AM
Hello All,

I received many private replies to my original message, all except one
being supportive of the opinion that race should be discounted in
experiments. Thank you to all those who have voiced their opinions
on what is obviously a touchy issue!

I think that several participants in the discussion missed the point:
Do we need to associate any particular physical characteristic that we are
measuring with something called "race" (however we define it),
in order to understand its significance? If sickle-cell anaemia is predominantly
linked with people of West African origin, its importance is that it
indicates a physical adaptation in response to malaria - not that it
is a characteristic associated with West Africans. If there are people in
one area of the world among which the absence of the supraspinous
ligament in the lumbar region is common, then a physical reason for this
is important, but not its association with their predominant hair
colour and texture, or eye colour. If Tay-Sachs disease is
important, it is because of the recognition of the underlying genetic
condition, (and its avoidance), not because it is incidentally associated with
the Tay and Sachs extended families, and certainly not the religion they may
practise.

A comparison of colour and race is quite effective - after all,
colour is in the eye of the beholder, and is subjective. What to us
is pure "blue" is nothing of the sort to a bumblebee. In fact the
colours we classify are merely a result of the way in which our own eyes
work, plus social conditioning. An alien might well see a colour
somewhere between red and blue as being "pure", and red and blue as
mixtures, not so? (In fact an alien might not see the same range of
the electromagnetic spectrum at all!)

There is no practical use for information such as "The average
height of Nordic people is slightly greater than that of Slavs". So
what? Unless one wishes to introduce discriminatory legislation
against non-Nordic peoples (God forbid), and use height as part of a
definition of the state of being "Nordic", this is useless information!
(Anyway, statures and builds are beginning to resemble each other
right across the world, as nutrition moves away from the traditional
monocultures towards richer and more varied diets.)

The mention of "purebreed races" made me shudder. How large is the
genetic spectrum of each "purebreed"? What genetic span should be
included in a "purebreed", and who is going to define the cut-off
points? Who will define what the "purebreed" genetic code is?
On the other hand we could take this "purebreed" argument to its
logical limit - is not each individual a perfect example of their own
purebred race? Are there not 7 billion of us perfect purebred races on
Earth?

As far as biomechanics goes, if we find some physical characteristic
that is relevant to what we are studying, whether it be an athletic
event or not, the association or otherwise of that physical characteristic with
other physical markers which are of no consequence for our studies,
does not enhance them. Often such "other physical markers" may be
connected with racial stereotypes (e.g. the epicanthal folds of
Chinese and Japanese peoples' eyes, or hair colour and texture).

While I remain firmly unconvinced that "race" is a useful concept, I
agree with all those who stated that social and cultural practices
might well play a role in research.

Mark W Swanepoel
School of Mechanical Engineering
University of the Witwatersrand

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