NEWS and UPDATES
A few months after The Sports Gene came out, I got an e-mail from a member of TED’s speaker selection group. It asked whether I could discuss–in 18 minutes or less, of course–why athletes have gotten so much better far faster than the human gene pool could have changed. Having spent several years thinking about related questions as I worked on the book, I think they came to the right place. You can see the talk here, and I hope you’ll agree.
It appears that shortly after my friend and ESPN writer Pablo S. Torre tweeted that he would “pay to see” me and Malcolm Gladwell debate the 10,000-hours rule, someone at the MIT business school decided that people should pay to see me and Malcolm Gladwell debate the 10,000-hours rule. Ok, so they actually paid for the entire Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, which included Malcolm interviewing Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the NBA, but they did get to see us talk 10,000-hours and the threshold hypothesis and a number of other topics. You can check out the video here.
Yesterday, the first pieces of The Sports Gene went public, in the form of a Sports Illustrated excerpt. In the magazine version of the excerpt, there are diagrams illustrating some of the concepts. Since this sort of art isn’t quite in the wheelhouse of a typical SI story, my editor Chris Hunt thought it would be a good idea for me to give the art department a few sketches to get them started. The art in the magazine looks great, and I thought it might be neat for anyone who’s interested to see what I sketched out, and some of the notes in the margin suggesting captions or pull quotes. (And you can see that I wasn’t planning on making my quarterback drawing of Peyton Manning originally, so I started with jersey number 12.) So, hopefully you can ignore my lack of art prowess.
The first bits of The Sports Gene hit the internet today in the form of a Sports Illustrated excerpt. It’s taken from the first chapter of the book, and explains why Major League hitters–much to their own surprise–can’t hit softball ace Jennie Finch. Take a look here!
Scientific American has a special place in my heart, because it was there, in 2003, that I placed my very first freelance piece, about secret ingredients in pesticides that are hidden from the public. Naturally, I was pretty excited to have SciAm choose my book as one of its recommended reads for August. The magazine determined that I am “well equipped to explain the complexities of the ‘sports gene’ search.” I think the subtext is that, while I attempted to make complex science understandable, I also didn’t try to simplify it so much as to make the conclusions inaccurate. That’s the tightrope that science writers walk, and I’m honored that a publication like Scientific American thinks I managed to stay on the rope. You can read the review here.
I was surprised and pleased when I heard from geneticist Stephen M. Roth, director of the University of Maryland’s Functional Genomics Lab, that the New York Post had called him to discuss a column about The Sports Gene. I was even more excited to see that the writer of the column is Susannah Cahalan. Her book, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, is atop my Amazon wish list. In discussing the issue of race and sports, Cahalan astutely points out that we needn’t know which genes are important to a trait to prove that the trait itself is genetic. Most of the genes that account for variation in human height, for example, are still unknown due to the complexity of genetics, but studies of identical and fraternal twins, families, and entire populations have shown over and over that variance in height is at least 80% genetic. Take a look at Cahalan’s column here.
I lost plenty of sleep over the last three years as I agonized over how to condense complex scientific concepts without sacrificing accuracy. So, needless to say, I was a bit nervous when I found out Dr. Mike Joyner, one of the world’s leading experts on human performance and exercise physiology would review my book. That’s kind of like having your book on football strategy fact-checked by Bill Walsh. (Of course, when I told Dr. Joyner that, he replied: “Don Coryell, or better yet Sid Gillman. Walsh gets way too much credit.”) So I was thrilled to see that Dr. Joyner found my science writing to be accurate, and that he recommended the book highly. In his words: “I recommend this book generally to sports fans, but more importantly this book should also be read by people who are broadly interested how an individual’s biology interacts with their behavior (training), their environment, and their culture.” Check out his review here!
In the Times of South Africa, one of my favorite science writers used the occasion of a commentator’s rude remarks about Wimbledon champ Marion Bartoli as an opportunity to discuss the science of athletic body types. The article used body type stats from The Sports Gene (as cited at the bottom). Have a look here!
This is where I’ll post thoughts, pictures, and videos related to my book, and perhaps to current events that relate to genetics and sports. My book, The Sports Gene, encompasses essentially all that we have learned in the decade since the sequencing of the human genome about what genetic science can tell us about athleticism. (And what it can’t. The bullet-fast reactions of a Major League hitter? Not genetic.) I reported from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle; from an autonomous, rain-forested region of Jamaica from which sprinters are said to spring, and along the altitudinous ledges of the Rift Valley in Kenya, home of the world’s greatest distance runners. My book also includes original data analysis of, for example, the body types of NBA players. (If you know an American man between the ages of 20 and 40 who is at least seven feet tall, there’s a 17% chance he’s in the NBA right now.) Because geneticists have tip-toed into the bramble patches of issues like gender and race, this book follows them there. I hope you will enjoy this exploration of all that genetics can currently tell us about the great nature versus nurture debate as it pertains to sports.