Just for fun. A repost of something that floated to the top several months ago. October 17th 2007 to be exact. There is a reason I’m reposting this. For now, I’ll let you guess.


It is now time to kick James Watson’s ass.

The man is a terrible embarrassment to us all. (“Us” being scientists and rational types.) It is said by the press that Watson “makes his colleagues cringe when he goes off script” or “is known for making controversial remarks” and so on. Fine. But these are not apt descriptors for James Watson’s most recent remarks or, for that matter, many of his earlier remarks. No, not at all. These descriptors make Watson sound like a somewhat crazy free thinking guy who doesn’t care if he pisses off a few people with what he says. But that is not what he is at all.

No. James Watson is, simply put, a moron. I want to take a moment to explain why I think that.

Here is the story, as reported in The Independent:

One of the world’s most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that “equal powers of reason” were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, … reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

… Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”
… Dr Watson has frequently courted controversy with some of his views on politics, sexuality and race. The respected journal Science wrote in 1990: “To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script.”

In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. …. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that ” stupidity” could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great.”

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said yesterday that Dr Watson could not be contacted to comment on his remarks.

image

Early scientists mucking around with large messy things like kinetic energy

OK, first, the science. There has been a lot of systematic testing of people divided into “racial groups” (including “Asian,” “African,” “Hispanic,” and “White” and so on). In the US it is found that “African” or “Black” categories test, in terms of IQ, a consistent 20 points, more or less, below, “Whites” as a group. On further examination, it is found that socioeconomic status (SES) and home environment predict IQ as well. When you analyze the data, you find that the latter — SES and Home Environment — are the main predictors of IQ across a given contemporary population, not skin color. It happens that skin color and SES and skin color and Home Environment, in the US and over the last few decades, are intertwined realities. The cause of the state of the SES and Home Environment variables is not IQ … it is cultural variation and, predominantly, racism. The IQ difference we see is the end product.

It is also the case that IQ varies across time in a way that is about as astounding as variation across time in stature in some populations … a group of American “Whites” brought forward in a time machine from the 1920s would test perhaps 20 points lower than a matched comparative set of “Whites” living in the first decade of the 21st century. That is not a genetic change … it is not the case that all the stupid people died any more than it is the case that all of the short people dying off, causing the secular increase in stature over the same time period (see “Tall Gene”). Rather, it is some other kind of change that has not been satisfactorily explained, but probably relates to factors like Home Environment and the vagaries of this kind of testing.
image

Mr. Science, with his exploding chemistry set, was a bit of an atavism.

So, there is a problem. It is a social problem, an economic problem, and a problem linked in many different, insidious, ways to racism.

I assert, here and now, that Dr. Watson’s remarks indicate that he is of substandard intelligence. I say this because he must know better … he is a scientist who has worked in ancillary areas, and there is simply no way that he is not familiar with the relevant scientific literature. Therefore, he must be stupid. At least, that is what the empirical evidence strongly suggests at this point.

It is time to stop fooling ourselves about James Watson. Anyone who has keep up with his remarks will tell you this.

It may seem odd that the guy who, with others, “discovered DNA” could be a moron, but a brief analysis suggests that this is in fact quite possible. There are at least three factors that could explain James Watson’s obvious dullness, in spite of his professed brilliance: The Nature of the Academic Free Market; the Swinging Dead Cat Phenomenon; and the Benefits of Teamwork.
image

Once science discovered how to reveal the mysteries of tiny but complex things, the world changed and it became fairly easy for anyone with a little training and some cool gear to discover the hidden mysteries of nature.

The Nature of the Academic Free Market

Watson’s work was done in the post-war era of the mid to late 1950s and the early 1960s. Although we all know that the launch of Sputnik in October 1957 was an event that galvanized the United States into a major effort to build up academic capacity (see this for more commentary), it is also true that there was a general building of universities and scientific and technological capacities as part of a more general post WW II phenomenon. In those days, therefore, there was a shortage of trained university academics (professors, researchers) and an increasing demand for individuals to fill these positions. Those were the days when you could get a job running a physics department with a masters degree in auto mechanics, get tenure, and relax for the rest of your life. And I’m only slightly exaggerating. As we speak, myriad mediocre members of the academy from this era of high demand and undersupply have recently, are just now, or are about to retire. These gentlemen (and they were all gentlemen, or at least, men) were hired some time between about 1955 and 1967, often rising to important positions, but really, not doing much in the way of actually contributing to science. It is possible that James Watson was one of these individuals who happened to get lucky.
image

The scientific literature of the mid 1950s through the 1960s is full of information about tiny, complex things like DNA.

Swinging a Dead Cat

The other thing that was going on during this period, in science, was a major shift in instrumentation and technology. To see this in a somewhat humorous and entertaining way, go find yourself a stack of science magazines … Science, Scientific American, Nature, etc., from Pre- World War II, and get another stack of similar magazines from the mid 1960s. Compare the contents of the two … just look at the pictures, the ads, the illustrations. You will quickly and without needing a degree in the History of Science perceive a major shift in topics of interest, the machinery that was being sold or talked about, and the kinds of phenomena that scientists were addressing. Large, bulky machines designed to move things, burn things, or that produced or detected energy of various types gave way to somewhat more graceful and delicate machines that were designed to see the invisible … to peer inside cells, or to divine the micro crystaline structure of dehydrated organic compounds, etc.

In any given subfield, this transition was pretty sudden. One day you’re wondering what those dots floating around in a cell are, the next day you are collecting data that allow you to understand the structure of proteins. Wow. This transition is what allowed any moron with a grant to look at pretty much anything and discover something never before imagined.

Watson and his colleagues could not have missed the structure of DNA if they were trying to avoid it. They were living in times when you could not swing a dead cat without discovering a fundemental property of nature.
image

A model of a tiny, invisible to the human eye, complex feature of a cell.

Especially if you are working with others, or even better, Rosilind Franklin did all the work for you. OK, I admit, I am nothing like an expert on the whole Rosilind Franklin affair. Watson seems to have only bad things to say about her. It does appear to be the case that some of her work was important to Watson and Crick but was not properly cited. It also appears to be the case that Watson remains to this day a misogynist. I don’t know what to conclude from this, but it does not smell right to me. In any event, just as it is possible for Watson to have had a reasonably successful career and not been very good, and for Watson to have not been able to avoid the discovery of the structure of DNA, it is also possible that he was part of a team on which anyone could have played his role. There may be nothing special, nothing “genius,” about him. Just circumstance and linkage to a particularly important event.

It is possible that I’m wrong about this, and that James Watson really is, or was, some kind of genius, and without this genius, the discoveries reported by Watson and Crick would have needed to wait another decade. But, if that is true, than the prognosis is worse. If Watson is not a moron, given the science surrounding the biology of race, which I summarize very briefly above, he must be a very, very deeply commited ass.

So its like a multiple choice question:

James Watson is

  • a) an ass
  • b) a moron
  • c) all of the above
  • d) none of the above

‘c’ and ‘d’ cannot be correct answers. Its ‘a’ or ‘b.’ You pick.

Thanks to PZ Myers at Pharyngula for bringing this matter to my attention.

Comments

  1. #1 Stephanie Z
    June 11, 2008

    If you’re seeing something specific, rather than anticipating, please point. Janie and I need a new toy, since she broke the last one.

    And why don’t we see the BS-M these days?

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    June 11, 2008

    I think James Watson broke the BS-M

  3. #3 Alexander
    June 12, 2008

    From your article:
    “But, if that is true, than the prognosis is worse”

    It should be, “then”

  4. #4 Anne Gilbert
    June 12, 2008

    Whatever else he may be, Watson is definitely an ass. I wouldn’t call him a moron, though he is probably a moral moron. If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t have made the kind of remarks he has been known to make, because he would know better.
    Anne G

  5. #5 SLC
    June 12, 2008

    I don’t think that one can call Dr. Watson a moron on the basis of his comments on race. He is not the first eminent scientist to profess nutty ideas. Some examples are listed below of eminent scientists who have also professed nutty ideas.

    1. Linus Pauling, Nobel laureate in chemistry who made claims about the curative powers of vitamin C relative to cancer for which there is no substantive evidence.

    2. Peter Duesberg who denies the relationship of HIV and AIDS in the face of overwhelming evidence as to that relationship.

    3. William Shockley, Nobel laureate in physics who, like Watson, claimed that blacks were intellectually inferior to Caucasians.

    4. J. Allen Hynek, who was at one time the president of the American Astronomical Society, who professed belief in alien abductions and visitations of extraterrestrials.

    5. Brian Josephson, Nobel laureate in physics who professes beliefs in cold fusion, PK, and ESP.

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    June 12, 2008

    Moron is kind.

    Watson is well aware of the research and the data. We know this from various writings and interviews etc. If he is an intelligent, thinking scientist than the only way he can hold the racists views he holds (to the extent that we can see and measure them … it is something of a moving target) he is a committed racist.

    By calling him a moron I’m giving him an easy way out. Maybe he just does not understand the available information.

  7. #7 Mimi
    June 12, 2008

    he is an ass. I had read about most of this stuff when his comments first came out in the news. And reading this again… yes, ass.

  8. #8 Ian
    June 12, 2008

    I always confuse him with James Watt. An easy way to differentiate them is that whilst Watt made significant improvements to the steam engine, Watson just gets you steamed.

  9. #9 Pierce R. Butler
    June 12, 2008

    “Moronism” still doesn’t seem to be the right word for the particular type of mental breakdown appparently afflicting Dr. Watson’s personality. He’s either suffering some sort of (specific, narrow) cognitive decay, or is losing previously successful inhibitions against expressing socially unacceptable phobias.

    I give up. Could you please give us a teeny little clue about why the repost now?

  10. #10 rob
    June 12, 2008

    yeah, i was kinda disturbed by watson’s comments. i think he is a good example of the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

    also, he has only got one more nobel prize than me. big deal.

  11. #11 Stephanie Z
    June 12, 2008

    Pierce, this may not be why, but it’s, uh, interesting.

    http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2008/06/what.html

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    June 12, 2008

    I am actually making a huge, huge meta point in calling Watson a moron.

    He is telling us that his cleaning lady is stupid because she is black.

    That cleaning lady is my fucking sister and I’m pissed. He’s am moron. The guy who tells everyone else that they are morons because of the color of their skin and that everyone is supposed to listen to because he is supposed to be so smart, and so on … I’m calling him stupid. Low IQ. Not the sharpest knife in the Academy. So I’m sticking with Moron. (For those reasons)

    also, he has only got one more nobel prize than me. big deal.

    ROFLMAO!

  13. #13 Napoleon Dworkin
    June 12, 2008

    Yeah, but one Watson out there saying makes all of the pig headed, politically correct race/sex/class pandering assholes like PZ et al tolerable.

    There is more than one way to phrase any one thing: when he says that a mother should have a right to abort a homosexual child, he really is saying other things too: abortion ‘rights’ are under-used (especially in cases where women throw themselves in a mercenary way on any man that might knock-‘em-up so they can collect welfare, or a guys paycheck); abortion ‘choice’ includes the choice of which type of child a woman ‘chooses’ to carry, etc.–moicking the leftern tendency to uphold choice as loing as the choice isn’t against their pet issues…

    Maybe in stating the inequality of intelligence measures, he is also mocking the liberal PC tendency toward paternalistic views of dem po’ Af-icans, ythat tendency stated as a maternalistic attitude of “nurturing and helping” them and “the world is one big village”, and all of that freakin kumbia in the cartoons…

  14. #14 Stephanie Z
    June 12, 2008

    Napoleon, if Watson were clever enough to be making a meta comment on the situation, I’d like to think he’d be smart enough to point that out when someone called him on being a racist idiot. He’s had a few months to do that, but so far….

  15. #15 Napoleon Dworkin
    June 12, 2008

    Why would he want to waste time in that? Then, he would be involved in(enmeshed, I think is the correct word to describe relations amongst the Minncestuous PC cliques, right?) an endless dialogue with playground mentality little turds like PZ who think that being right means having all of your ‘friends’ love/hate the same things as you do–that old 6th grade polarized rhetoric.

    Or maybe he was “abused as a child” like all of these women who molest or murder kids in America? http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/3019346/

  16. #16 Stephanie Z
    June 12, 2008

    Not today, Napoleon. As much as I love a good argument, I’m just not up for getting into this today.

  17. #17 JanieBelle
    June 12, 2008

    While Stephanie is right, we do need a new toy (sorry ’bout that), it seems this has come along just as I’ve become a tad busy and can’t give it the time it deserves.

    As for Watson, I don’t seem to see “Disgusting Piece of Spooge” as a choice, so I’ll have to settle for “moron” I guess.

    Napsack for brains,

    Dr. PZ is sort of my virtual grandfather. Back the frack up.

  18. #18 Stephanie Z
    June 12, 2008

    No worries, Janie. Some toys aren’t meant to last. :)

  19. #19 Pierce R. Butler
    June 12, 2008

    Stephanie Z – Thanks for the info, but the follow-up is a little vague: “problem fixed” sounds good, but what does it mean? Has S-Blogs excised its Watsonoma?

    Greg L – That explains your (ahem) meta-motivation, but doesn’t answer the specific question of “why now?”. Has your sister just recently started working for this racist jerk, or had some nasty treatment from him, or ???

  20. #21 Greg Laden
    June 12, 2008

    Why now? See my later post (just earlier today)

  21. #22 GapMan
    June 12, 2008

    Testing results of the races for IQ is steady worldwide. It is east Asians at around 105, whites around 100, and blacks in Africa around 72 (85 in the US probably mostly due to better nutrition).

    These IQ test results are indisputable. The same IQ gaps show up in every state in the US. They show up in the tests given by the US military for the last 100 years. They show up in every country in the world where there is a mix of races.

    The tests can be given to children at age 6, so it is not education driving the IQ gaps.

    The tests have been stripped of cultural bias. No one has ever been able to devise an IQ test that alters the results.

    Yes, IQ is rising likely due to improved nutrition and increased mental stimulations in our world. But they are rising for all races. Thus the IQ gaps among the races remained unchanged. For example, the black-white gap remains steady at about one standard deviation.

    Success in life (school success, career, income, wealth) directly correlates with IQ. For example, on the average, a black with an IQ of 90 will do about as well as a white with an IQ of 90. On the average, a black with an IQ of 120 will do about as a well as a white with an IQ of 120.

    Much of the inequality in the US and worldwide can be explained by this IQ gap.

    Those who argue that the average black should do as well as the average white are really arguing that a black with an IQ of 85 can do just as well as a white with an IQ of 100.

    I wish all of above was not true, but it is. And it is time for us to start dealing with it. You don’t have to hate other races to think about this. That seems to be the working assumption of so many people.

  22. #23 Stephanie Z
    June 12, 2008

    Education starts at age 6? Nope. Try again. Stripped of cultural biases? Hah! But do come back and give a source for your statistics, please, even if you haven’t a clue what’s behind them.

  23. #24 JanieBelle
    June 13, 2008

    These IQ test results are indisputable.

    Shows what you know. Until you give me more than your bare-assed assertion, I dispute them.

    Eat that, GapInTheEvidenceDepartmentMan.

  24. #25 JanieBelle
    June 13, 2008

    Um… hello?

    Still waiting, still disputing here!

    I’m a busy girl y’know, lots of internet denizens to seduce…

  25. #26 Betul
    August 7, 2008

    I just saw this post, I wish I could catch the topic while it was still hot. But hey, ignorance is temporary, not the idiocy, I guess.

    Anyways, let me use my chance to say how much I dislike J. Watson as well. I simply don’t like him, just like some other professors I see in grad school. He is snobby, racist, sexist and discriminative. It is a shame that a person like him will be remembered forever. I wish his name was not under such a great discovery, but under out-of-grant profs. type of list or something.

    Phew, I feel relaxed. Yey, now I finally let the feelings out. This blogging thing feels like group therapy sometimes :) Thanks for the opportunity!

  26. #27 Betul
    August 7, 2008

    I just saw this post, I wish I could catch the topic while it was still hot. But hey, ignorance is temporary, not the idiocy. Yet Watson is still the Watson.

    Anyways, let me use my chance to say “I dislike you J. Watson!” as well.
    I simply don’t like him, just like some other professors I see in grad school everyday. He is snobby, racist, sexist and discriminative. It is a shame that a person like him will be remembered forever. I wish his name was not under such a great discovery, but under out-of-grant profs type of list or something.

    Brains have no color! How can a man who discovered DNA can say that because some people have darker color, they are less intelligent? Unbelievable.

    Phew, I feel relaxed. Yey, now I finally let the feelings out. This blogging thing feels like group therapy sometimes :) Thanks for the opportunity!

  27. #28 D
    August 8, 2008

    There’s a scienceblogger who says many of the same things Watson says, and who isn’t obviously a crackpot either. So which is your scibling? Ass or moron?

  28. #29 Stephanie Z
    August 8, 2008

    D, from what I’ve seen, usually fodder.

  29. #30 Greg Laden
    August 8, 2008

    D

    I do not know to whom you refer. As for my Sblings, few are morons, many are asses.

    G

  30. #31 D
    August 8, 2008

    I meant Razib at gene expression, especially his original website, which he links to

  31. #32 M. Möhling
    January 20, 2010

    So I’m late here.

    > He is telling us that his cleaning lady is
    > stupid because she is black

    Fair representation of the opponent’s view is basal for scientific inquiry. Watson argues with the Bell curve, so he’d say, if asked such moronic question, that there’s a non trivial chance that his black cleaning lady’s IQ is lower than her average white or east Asian collegue’s, and, if so, with a non trivial chance that it’s a difference of one standard deviation. He’ll agree that she might be a genius well above 130 as well, as the Bell curve predicts there are such people in every major human group, though not in equal distribution. He’ll add though the obvious: if over par, she probably had better use of her time than to hoover his carpets.

    I can’t believe they let you blog here. Is there a quota? Say, for tards, as they’re human, too–undisputedly? Have you shamed someone into looking the other way when you blather? Both Watson and the Bell curve might be wrong, but the assertion above shows that you wouldn’t possibly know. When and where did Razib tear your arse apart on this issue? Or where you, um, streetwise enough at least not to ask for his input?

  32. #33 Stephanie Z
    January 20, 2010

    Wow, M. Way to focus on a single sentence in a comment to invalidate the post! Do you have to practice that, or is it a natural skill? And are there classes available in ignoring the ignoring the post while you do it, because that was an amazing feat of pretending the Watson quotes on race aren’t all about how their skin color dooms them.

  33. #34 M. Möhling
    January 20, 2010

    Steph, do you bother to write a paper when confronting a conspiracy theorist (which Greg may or may not be, that’s not the point)? Don’t you think it’s economical to hawk on the most blatant bull (as you see it), let the nut, er, worthy opponent answer and go on from there, should that answer suggest provenance from living matter?

    btw: for the east Asian colleague it should be a difference of two standard deviations, for what it’s worth. Wouldn’t want the Gregster to tear my arse apart when he dons the advocatus diaboli cape. Even btwayer: my behind happens to be lily-white, though I posit that my genetic distance to Mr Watson’s presumed cleaning wife should not be so distant as for her not to qualify as my sister, too, in that high-spirited sense Mr Laden refers to. Isn’t it, Gregoire?

  34. #35 Greg Laden
    January 20, 2010

    Watson argues with the Bell curve, so he’d say, if asked such moronic question, that there’s a non trivial chance that his black cleaning lady’s IQ is lower than her average white or east Asian collegue’s,

    Actually, it was not a hypothetical. He said it.

    I can’t believe they let you blog here. Is there a quota? Say, for tards, as they’re human, too–undisputedly?

    And now you are gone.

  35. #36 Stephanie Z
    January 20, 2010

    One more data point on “Oh, look. I can diminish you by using a nickname” trolling.

  36. #37 José
    January 20, 2010

    Say it ain’t so Breeder with a Boner!

  37. #38 José
    January 20, 2010

    Woops. Thread confusion.

  38. #39 M. Mőhling
    January 20, 2010

    > And now you are gone

    Hold your horses, there’s trickery to the rescue (lest you delete), but the quote about “people who have to deal with black employees” escaped my attention indeed. So yes, that can be rephrased your way–my bad indeed, foul-mouthing was unwarranted–at least to that extend, as blogging about kicking freaking asses and surmising Watson to be a moron is, well, whatever. That quote surely is, which I excuse with the occasional imbecility of even smart people. Case in point, as you must see it, your peers Razib and Jason Malloy, who discussed the topic not sharing your assessments, though they kept their cool unlike the old man. Besides, you didn’t engage when comments where open and I can’t find heated debate later on. How come?

    > nickname trolling
    Believe it or not–no nickname, just a M. where you opted for a Z.

  39. #40 John Smith
    December 2, 2011

    M. It’s easy to call someone whom you don’t know and who you know won’t respond a “moron” than somneone you perhaps do know who you know WILL hit back.

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