Black People Better Runners, White People Better Swimmers: Race, Science, and Athletics

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American swimmer Michael Phelps competes in the men's medley 200 m final of the Paris' Swimming Open on June 27, 2010 in Paris.
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Biomechanical researchers analyzed 100 years of athletes' heights, weights and running and swimming records, and demonstrated how the placement of one's center of gravity affects one's athletic performance. No big deal, right? People got jumpy, however, when the International Journal of Design & Nature and Ecodynamics published the paper: “The Evolution of Speed in Athletics: Why the Fastest Runners are Black and Swimmers are White.”

We talk with two of the scientists behind the study: Dr. Adrian Bejan of Duke University and Edward Jones, of Howard University, about why their team embarked on this project, the science enlisted in their research, and the specifics of the study’s outcomes.

We also talk with Latoya Peterson of Racialicious.com about why these sorts of studies make so many people squeamish, and whether, in a post-racial society, it makes sense to conduct studies on groups of people based on shared physical characteristics. Peterson says that this research can fuel racism. "There's a lot of ambiguity. There's a lower-level understanding from people who haven't done a lot of research, and the data can be interpreted completely different and applied completely differently than people who work in anti-racism or people who work in science would want it to be applied," she says.

What's your take? Are race-based studies inherently racist?