Explain the main question(s) or problem(s) that motivated this article or research
The main question that motivated Shenk to write the article is the prevalence of sports excellence based on geographical clusters. He notes the unique capabilities of Jamaican sprinters and Kenyan marathoners in comparison with their immediate neighbors, for instance, the Americans. Despite minimal genetic variation among them with their competitors, athletes from these two countries continue to dominate track and field races. The same has been noted for selected world regions that produce better basketballers, jumpers, cyclists, and swimmers. The author considers the genetic distribution, starting with ACTN3 gene, in the main sports performance in relation to their geographical location. Since the genetic evidence show that there is little evidence to correlate sports performance and the race of an individual, the author seeks to answer the sports performance phenomena using other life aspects. Shenk identifies media, climate, nutrition, demographics, training, politics, education, folklore, economics, and spirituality as some of the most important factors in the success of a sports personality.
2).Explain the author(s)’s main argument (thesis) in this article. What are they trying to prove?
Shenk’s main argument in the article is to prove that sports performance variation is based on more than genetic variation. Shenk uses research from sports geographers and genetics to explain how other factors such as demographics, training, and climate contribute to athletic success clustering. He uses the case study of Kenyan athletes, who are from a particular community, located in a specific geographical location, with unique culture as distinguishing factors for their capabilities.
3).Explain the most important evidence presented to support the thesis
The strongest evidence used by the author to support the claims is the physique genetic mutation that has been influenced by several aspects such as ancestral practices and training which athletes are subjected to by their coaches. For instance, the Kenyan Athletes can attribute their prowess to cultural practices such as cattle raiding, desire to succeed, and intense training that are passed to generations. In fact, Kenyan athletes can train more than their counterparts across the globe, where they sacrifice a lot to achieve a certain goal. Moreover, the financial allure of winning a race pushes the athletes to reach their goal, which has probably contributed to the performance difference among Jamaican and Kenyan athletes compared to others across the world.
4).Explain any counterarguments (alternative ideas) that the author mentions, and if there is any evidence thatdisagrees with the author’s main thesis
The author develops a counter argument based on the endurance genes, GxE, where heconcludes that the gene only helps to increase some traits and not directly associated with higher performance. His argument is supported by Charney and William, pg. 392, on the impacts of the environment on a gene. For the gene to be psychologically and biological beneficial, there must be variants that provoke it. For instance, in the Kenyan athletes, it is the climate, culture, and amount of training. On the Jamaican context, it is the genetic diversity that includes a mixture of European, Native American, and West African ancestry which makes its sprinters more powerful. The genetic variation and mutation counter argument agrees with the author’s major thesis.
5).Explain whether or not you find the author’s thesis and evidence persuasive, and/or if you think some otherevidence could strengthen or weaken the claims made in this article.
Based on Shenk’s claims that success is not based on genetics alone, but a mixture of cultural practice, I find his evidence persuasive. Using sports success as an example, he is able to distinguish Jamaican and Kenyan athletes basing his argument beyond the gene perception. He explains the impact of cultural practices that distinguish these athletes. His explanation of genetic and psychological researchers makes the article persuasive and supports his major thesis.
Possible Discussion Questions
- If American athletes were to train and spend most of their time in Kenya, would they register better results in long distance races?
- Why don’t the cultural and genetic characteristics that define the success of the Jamaicans and Kenyans in the athletics realm translate to other sports that require endurance such as swimming, football, and basketball?
- Is there a relationship betweenculture, genes and success in other social attributes apart from sports such as technology and economic development?
Charney, Evan, and William English. “Genopolitics and the Science of Genetics. “The American Political Science Review 107.2 (2013): 382-95. ProQuest. Web. 14 May 2016.
Shenk, David. Can White Men .lump? Ethnicity, Genes, Culture, and Success. The Genius in All of Us (2010): 154-157. Double day. Print