View Full Version : Re: What does the word race really mean?

Wen-ling Chen
04-22-1998, 03:42 AM
Dear all:

Well, I seem to be the person who brought up the racial issue. I
had better add some points to clarify matters.

Does the concept of race have any value in biomechanics? It seems
to me that we should ask when or why the biomechanics researchers need
to study the effect of race in the first place.

The beauty of biomechanics, from my point of view, is that it is
helpful to develop some preventive or therapeutic measures which might
decrease the incidence of dysfunction. Starting with the results of
epidemiological studies is a direct way to do this. If significant
differences between two broad spectrums of population were reported in
some dysfunction which the mechanical factors might account for, it is
from the biomechanical point of view worthwhile to go further. In such
circumstances, it is necessary to follow the SAME grouping criteria
which were used in the epidemiological literature with significant
findings in respect of the differences in prevalence of dysfunction
among different racial groups. Will this approach reduce the value of
these biomechanical studies? It is reasonable to suggest that the
value of the latter resides less in a debate over the finer points of
terminology and more in the resutls which tell us about differences
between recognizable and generally accepted categories of human
populations. If it is a fact that some similar characteristics exist
within a certain, recognizable group of people, we might be able to
benefit from using biomechanical analysis. The value of grouping by
race is seen to be as legitimate as is that by gender.

It is true that the concept of race is multifactoral and the
racial divide and the notion of a "pure" racial group are unclear. It
is possible that an American born Asian might have different
anthropomorphic features from an "native" Asian. However, if we can
take these into consideration by adjusting the confounding factors or by
using the concept of study control, the results can perhaps still
provide valuable information.

There are indeed differences between members of the same race,
such as that which was interestingly referred to, albeit with tongue in
cheek, namely that not all Caucasian sit and not all Asian squat on the
toilet. However, it is because these differences can hardly attribute
to one single explanation that the exploration of why differences in the
prevalence of dysfunction exist among different races is attractive and
challenging to researchers in biomechanics. The differences in motor
control among different races, no matter whether these result from
social influence, diet or genetic factor, might domonstrate some
practical information in biomechanics, provided that the anthropometric
data is adjusted. In this lies the beauty of biomechanics, for there is
always a hope that people can be taught to change their motor control.


Wen-ling Chen, M.S. P.T.
Lecturer, Physical Therapy Department, National Cheng Kung University,
D.Phi. student, Oxford Orthopaedic Engineering Centre, University of
email: wen-ling.chen@sable.ox.ac.uk

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