The United States leads the world in science output, with 5 percent of the population producing 30 percent of the world's research. And yet compared to scientists in other countries, U.S.-based scientists are underrepresented as authors of articles on the potential role of innate variation in athletic performance. 

Grand Valley State University researchers searched journals and NIH and NSF databases for grant proposals solicited or funded from 2000-2012 to determine if the proportion of authors that listed U.S. addresses was associated with funding patterns. NIH did not solicit grant proposals designed to examine these factors in the context of athletic performance and neither NIH nor NSF funded grants designed to study these topics.

Why? An ideologically charged atmosphere in the U.S. surrounding the potential influences of innate variation on performance, which has led to U.S.-based scientists avoiding studying a controversial topic. No one can work for free and academic funding is primarily government-controlled. Once it becomes known that government won't fund something, researchers move on to things that will get funded. As a result, US scholars don't study the role of innate variation in traits and athletic performance. This is a dramatic switch from a decade ago, when federal funding limitations on controversial human embryonic stem cell research led to more grant applications.

The research, conducted by Grand Valley biology professor Michael P. Lombardo and Shadie Emiah, a Grand Valley State graduate student, used information about the authors of 290 articles published in peer-reviewed science journals between 2000 and 2012 and compared the proportions of authors with U.S. addresses with those that listed addresses elsewhere that studied the relationships between athletic performance and prenatal exposure to androgens, as indicated by the ratio between the length of the forefinger and ring-finger, and genetic variation in genes for angiotensin converting enzyme, α-actinin-3, and myostatin, traits that are often associated with athletic performance.  

Lombardo said: "Regardless of the ultimate reasons why U.S.-based scientists don't often publish articles about the potential role of innate variation on athletic performance, they are failing to maintain pace with their colleagues elsewhere in the illumination of the factors that influence athletic performance because they fail to study possible innate correlates of performance. As a consequence, not only will the scientific study of sport by U.S.-based scientists suffer, but so will the scientific study of the biological and environmental correlates of physical activity, fitness and general health."

Citation: Michael P Lombardo, Shadie Emiah, 'Scientometric analyses of studies on the role of innate variation in athletic performance', SpringerPlus 2014, 3:307 doi:10.1186/2193-1801-3-307. Source: Grand Valley State University