The Science Bureau Returns

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Illustration: Andrew J. Peerless

An Analysis of Anger in Adolescent Girls Who Practice the Martial Arts (International Journal of Pediatrics, 2011)  

Here’s some new fear-mongering spice for the next Republican presidential candidate deate: Iran is apparently training elite teenage-girl ninja attack squadrons … and they are ANGRY. Scientists from the Tehran University of Medical Sciences took on the pressing question of whether teenage girls enrolled in martial arts classes are more aggressive than their non-athlete or non-violent athlete peers—a surprising line of inquiry from a country that doesn’t even allow women to attend men’s soccer games. But the study is rather thorough, enrolling dozens of karate, judo, and swimming students from the sporting clubs of Tehran, and putting them through a rigorous questionnaire (“The Adolescent Anger Rating Scale”) measuring anger control and both planned and spontaneous aggression. Results indicated that one should most avoid provoking teenage judo girls, who showed the highest anger rate despite practice in “the gentle way.” Karate girls, on the other hand, demonstrated fuses no shorter than their swim-team or bookishly non-athletic counterparts—perhaps due, the authors speculated, to increased meditation and “imaginary opponent” exercises in that martial arts discipline. But surely Santorum and Perry would agree that we don’t have time to for limp-wristed meditational diplomacy—we must make a pre-emptive strike against these legions of black-belt judo tweens before they invade American soil.  

Varsity athletes have lower 2D:4D ratios than other university students (Journal of Sports Sciences, 2011)

Forget all the elaborate combine drills and scouting trips, an athlete’s potential might be gleaned more simply with a set of calipers and a couple of fingers. Since the nineteenth century, scientists have measured the ratio of index finger length to your ring finger length and linked it to everything from heart disease and prostate cancer risk to musical ability and alcoholism to, more controversially, sexual orientation. This simple ratio— thought to be related to the amount of prenatal testosterone exposure—has also attracted the attention of sports researchers, who have correlated finger lengths with fitness, aggressiveness, and success on the field. Researchers at St. Mary’s University in Halifax compared the finger length ratios between varsity athletes and non-athletes on their campus and found smaller average ratios for the sporting crowd. Average folks fell around 1.0, meaning ring finger = index finger, while both male and female athletes sported averages below 1, reflecting a longer ring finger. Your reporter’s index finger is roughly as long as his ring finger, which is why I’m writing this column instead of dunking basketballs.


“The one eye injury recorded during the study occurred because of a small chip of the turf accidentally entering the eye of the player, whereas the ear drum rupture case was an outcome of player collision with the knee of one of the opponents hitting the left side of the head of the injured player. ... The one athlete with ear drum rupture also suffered concussion and could not continue any further in the tournament.” (“Head and Face Injuries During the Men’s Field Hockey Junior World Cup 2009,” American Journal of Sports Medicine, Nov. 2011)  

Are big time sports a threat to student achievement? (NBER working paper, 2011)

This paper already got a ton of blurbage when it appeared online in December, but it still begs further dissection. The basic finding is that a college’s football success, in this case the success of the Oregon Ducks, produces a decrement in male student versus female student grades, specifically in the fall quarter when football season is at its peak. The implication is that male students get smashed when the team wins, and their grades suffer. This finding is impressive, but also raises a number of questions about the specificity of the Oregon sample. What happens at Stanford, when your team is really good every few seasons, and student identifiability with football isn’t as meaningful as it is at, say, TCU?  What happens when a traditionally great football program like Notre Dame starts to suck? Two aspects of the data that nobody seems to be discussing are that (1) the effect is most profound for nonwhite and low-SES students, and that (2) football success also impairs female academic performance, but just not to the same degree as males. The first aspect is troubling because those students already are at a social disadvantage given their minority status at Oregon. The second suggests a frustrating finding for women—that the mere presence of increased alcohol/partying brought on by team success also affects those who care about it least. And yes, I am aware of the high level of female fanaticism at Oregon, but trust me, you all who won’t read this article in full, the women in this study report significantly less interest in Oregon football than the men.

A population-based study of sport and recreation-related head injuries treated in a Canadian health region. (Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 2012)  

As an arrogant American, when I first stumbled upon this article, I was ready to chuckle a bit, imagining backwoods Canadians duking it out on the ice and then winding up in the ER. But the statistics blew me away: of the 3.2 million emergency room visits in Edmonton over an 11-year period, 2 percent were sports-related. That is a whopping number to begin with, and of those 2 percent, 4,935 were head injuries. As the recent Derek Boogard exposé made clear, the head injury situation in hockey is out-of-control horrific. Football gets all the press for concussions, and boxing is what really gets the attention of the medical community, but hockey is just as bad, if not worse. Of the 4,935 sports-related head injuries reported in Edmonton, 21 percent were hockey-related and 70 percent were from kids less than 18 years of age. Given the centrality of hockey to Edmontonian and Canadian culture, it could be a long time before any reasonable youth hockey reform emerges. 

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