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African Genes · Just Do It · Ethics of Sharing Data

     Are black Africans genetically predisposed to be better athletes? Ferret found the best perspective yet on this question from a chapter in Peak Performance, a new paperback on sports training and nutrition.
     The average African may be no different from the average non-African, but there's probably a greater diversity of athletic talent among Africans. The evidence comes from recent research comparing the frequency of different variants of the same stretch of DNA in various populations. Non-Africans have less variants, presumably because their forebears migrated out of Africa as a small group with only a small sample of genes from the African gene pool. The researchers didn't look at DNA coding for athleticism, but there's little doubt it will also be more diverse in Africans. With more genes to choose from, nature can build a better athlete from African stock.
     So, give enough Africans the opportunity to play a given sport and it's inevitable one will emerge with the right genes to win the Olympic gold. And it won't end with sport: expect Africans to excel in every field of human endeavor during the next millennium.

Armour, J.A., et al. (1996). Minisatellite diversity supports a recent African origin for modern humans. Nature Genetics, 13, 154-160.
Hawley, J.A., & Burke, L.M. (1998). Peak performance. Allen Unwin, Sydney. See excerpts in our
TrainGain and CompEat columns.
Contributed by Will Hopkins. 

     During a recent tennis match, Ferret's opponent praised her excellent forehand play. Her sly opponent knew about the Bliss-Boder hypothesis, which predicts a performance decrement when a performer thinks about body movement patterns or action plans before and during the execution of a well-learned skill. Ferret's grooved tennis swing did falter, so after the match she did a literature search on the topic. She found two references that left many unanswered questions about the strength of the effect on various skills. More research is needed.
     Ferret notes two other cognitive activities that could affect performance: attention to visual cues, and visualization of skills. Attention to visual cues occurs during performance and typically impairs skill execution, whereas visualization of skills occurs before performance and may result in skill enhancement. Ferret plans to find out more about these activities and will keep you posted. In the meantime don't think, just do it.

Baumeister, R.F. (1984). Choking under pressure: self-consciousness and paradoxical effects of incentives on skillful performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 46, 610-620.
Baumeister, R.F., & Steinhilber, A. (1984). Paradoxical effects of supportive audiences on performance under pressure: the home field disadvantage. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47, 85-93.
Contributed by Trish Shewokis. 

     Ferret recently wanted to apply a new statistical technique to data from a study that had just been published. These days journals usually publish group statistics, but Ferret needed the raw data. So she contacted the authors. "Yes, we'd love to send you the data," came the reply, "but our ethical committee won't allow it. We got ethical approval only for publication of group statistics, not for disseminating data on individual subjects." It didn't matter that there was no possibility of identifying the individuals from what was in the data set, nor that Ferret intended only to derive more group statistics, nor that there was anything in the data set that you could call personal, incriminating, or embarrassing in any way. Of course, it would have been possible to contact every subject in the study and try to get their consent, but at that stage Ferret and the authors gave up.
     So if you want others to be able to access your data, make sure you include something to that effect in your application for ethical approval. And don't take no for an answer from your ethical committee: sharing data is at the heart of science, whether it be individual observations or group statistics.
     Ferret thinks ethical committees should allow data sharing by default, with appropriate safeguarding of the identities of individuals. The committees should disallow sharing of sensitive data, such as cases of sexually transmitted diseases, if there is even a remote possibility that the subjects could be traced from the data. But in all other cases, surely it's unethical to prevent sharing of data?
Contributed by Will Hopkins. · · Homepage · Copyright ©1998
Edited by Chris Giles, Trish Shewokis, Will Hopkins
Webmastered by Chris Giles · Last updated 17 July 1998