The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense

By Michael Shermer | Go to book overview
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Racial Differences and What
They Really Mean

IN AN ESSAY ON MAN, the nineteenth-century English poet and essayist Alexander Pope elucidated the pitfalls of speculating on ultimate causes derived from immediate events:

In vain the sage, with retrospective eye, Would from th' apparent what conclude the why, Infer the motive from the deed, and show That what we chanced was what we meant to do.

Pope's wise words were in the back of my mind as I began writing this essay on a miserably cold and rainy March 5, 2000 Sunday morning, simultaneously watching the elite runners in the Los Angeles Marathon—just a handful among the 23,000 weekend warriors who braved the elements—cross the finish line. Although I have run the L.A. Marathon before, and even once completed a marathon after first swimming 2.4 miles in the open ocean and riding a bike 112 miles in the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon, I would not have given the results a second glance were it not for a book I had just read that called my attention to a certain characteristic common in the top five finishers' profiles. They were: (1) Benson Mutisya Mbithi, 2:11:55, (2) Mark Yatich, 2:16:43, (3) Peter Ndirangu Nairobi, 2:17:42, (4) Simon Bor, 2:20:12, and (5) Christopher Cheboiboch, 2: 20: 41. 1

It was not the times of the top five finishers that stood out in this year's race,


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The Borderlands of Science: Where Sense Meets Nonsense


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