Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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James Watson, 1962 Nobel Prize winner
for co-discovering the structure of DNA along with
Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.

Yesterday, Adam Bly, founder, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Seed Media Group, was interviewed by Carol Goar for an editorial about the Canadian government’s dismissal of its national science adviser, Arthur Carty.

“Science is driving our global culture unlike ever before,” Bly is cited as saying. “Now is not the time to send a signal — domestically and internationally — that Canada just doesn’t get it.”

In view of that news story, I have been daily surprised that very very few people in the mainstream media, the blogosphere or elsewhere have written about the fact that Bly is telling other people how to run their own political show while James Watson, nobelist and world famous racist and sexist asshole, is still acting as the scientific advisor for Seed Media Group, which is the owner of ScienceBlogs, which hosts this and 65 other blogs. Personally, I can’t imagine why there hasn’t been an enormous uproar over this outrageous situation, which continues to this very day. After all, how can ScienceBlogs, and Bly in particular, justify the continued odious presence of such a “scientific advisor” for an organization whose catch phrase is “science is culture”, and whose goal is to make science more attractive and understandable to the public — a public that Watson obviously reviles?

They cannot.

For those who might not know what happened, let me recap. Last October, “Lucky Jim” Watson demonstrated his opinion about Africans when he was quoted as saying 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.”

These statements were the final straw in the long career of a lifelong asshole. Even though a pseudo-mortified Watson apologized for his comments by saying “I am deeply saddened by the events of the last week … in the aftermath of a racist statement … that was both profoundly offensive and utterly unsupported by scientific evidence.”

But is he really sincere in this assertion? The evidence suggests that he was probably sincerely sorry for being caught making such dumbass and unfounded comments, but I highly doubt his “apology” represents a change of mind or heart because the man has a long track record of making similarly disparaging remarks about people whom he personally believes are lacking in various ways. For example, Watson not only hates Black Africans, but he also has some strong opinions about everybody else, beginning with stupid people. Here he is in New Scientist, arguing that stupidity is a disease and the “really stupid” bottom 10% of people should be cured;

“If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease,” says Watson, now president of the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory, New York. “The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what’s the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, ‘Well, poverty, things like that.’ It probably isn’t. So I’d like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 per cent.”

This is not an isolated comment, however. In fact, Watson has made similar remarks, all without any scientific data to support them. For example, while giving a public science lecture, the San Francisco Chronicle quoted him as claiming that there was a biochemical link between sunlight and sexual behavior.

“That’s why you have Latin lovers. You’ve never heard of an English lover. Only an English patient.”

As if to drive home his point, the lecture was filled with slides of bikini-clad women.

Watson also proves his lack of intellectual integrity by gleefully allowing himself to be strongly biased on the basis of physical appearances alone. For example, he was quoted in the New Scientist, asserting that beauty in women can be genetically engineered, and says that all girls should be engineered to be physically attractive (to men, no doubt).

“People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.”

Watson also promotes a strongly negative opinion about fat people, as revealed by the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.”

Watson is not above using his prominence to protect his vast chasm of well-deserved insecurity, either. In his self-aggrandizing memoir, The Double Helix, Watson writes harshly about a colleague of his, Rosalind Franklin, whose painstaking research in x-ray crystallography was, by his own admission, essential in his Nobel Prize in 1962;

By choice she did not emphasize her feminine qualities. . . . There was never lipstick to contrast with her straight black hair, while at the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue-stocking adolescents. So it was quite easy to imagine her the product of an unsatisfied mother who unduly stressed the desirability of professional careers that could save bright girls from marriages to dull men. . . . Clearly Rosy had to go or be put in her place. The former was obviously preferable because, given her belligerent moods, it would be very difficult for Maurice [Wilkins] to maintain a dominant position that would allow him to think unhindered about DNA. . . . The thought could not be avoided that the best home for a feminist was in another person’s lab.

Rosalind Franklin was not only a colleague of Watson’s, but apparently, thought that he and his collaborator, Francis Crick, were friends, and she regularly communicated with them often until her untimely death of cancer at the age of 37.

Watson has made many more comments like these, but these are the best documented that I could find on the web. So, in short, I think it is a grave error for Seed Media Group to continue to allow this man to remain in his position as Science Advisor. This is not only an insult to science itself, but it is deeply offensive to the integrity of the people who work in science.

Other pieces I’ve written about Watson;

Ebony, Meet Irony

Scientist Proves that Even Nobel Laureates Can be Mindless Idiots.

Comments

  1. #1 Filipe
    February 12, 2008

    If only he would have cured his own idiocy…

    Those things make him an unpleasant person, but does that hinder his judgement in truly scientific matters?

  2. #2 "GrrlScientist"
    February 12, 2008

    i believe it does, because watson’s comments demonstrate his inability to think clearly and rationally about people, even when there either are NO data to support his assertions, or when there are data that demonstrate the OPPOSITE of his opinions.

  3. #3 H.C.
    February 12, 2008

    “In fact, Watson has made similar remarks, all without any scientific data to support them.” I haven’t seen any scientific data that contradicts him, either. Please act scientifically and attack ideas, not people.

  4. #4 Bob
    February 12, 2008

    Two of the most sacred beliefs of lefties regarding intelligence seem to be: 1. that it is not inherited or innate, and 2. that it evolved through natural selection. It’s fun to point out the contradiction, then stand back and watch their brains seize.

  5. #5 Peggy
    February 12, 2008

    Bob, there really isn’t a contradiction between those two ideas, unless you think that black people and white people are different species. There is no argument about whether humans are the most intelligent animals. There is scientific disagreement as to how much variation there is in innate intelligence between different human populations. One of the main difficulties being that we don’t have a test that can differentiate between innate intelligence and the effects of environment on observed intelligence, which are significant.

    Watson makes statements about intelligence and attractiveness with little or no basis in science without qualifying his statements with “I think” or “I speculate” or “I’d really like to believe”. Instead he says these things as if they are based on solid scientific fact, safe in the knowledge that many people will just accept what he says based on his standing within the scientific community. It’s frustrating that so many people are willing to give him a pass because he’s Watson, and that’s just how he is.

  6. #6 The Ridger
    February 12, 2008

    Bob, learn the difference between the kind of intelligence that is evolved and the kind that is not inherited (hint, one is an attribute of an individual and the other isn’t). Then come back. Maybe we can talk.

  7. #7 anon
    February 12, 2008

    Unfortunately, academia has been overrun by liberals that attack any questions that might take away their belief in “equality.” As Watson’s shows, it does not matter who you are; if you bright forth questions that may eventually contradict liberal thought you are ostracized as a lunatic, racist, or a bigot. As long as academia attacks the questioner instead of the methods then science will suffer.

  8. #8 Bob
    February 12, 2008

    I said nothing about blacks or whites or populations. Evolution takes place at the level of individuals. In order for evolution to make humans “the most intelligent animals,” two things must be true: Individual humans must differ significantly in intelligence, and a significant part of that difference must be genetic and inherited. Otherwise evolution has nothing to work with.

    Once you accept the principle that at least part of variations in intelligence must be innate, if you then observe a difference in populations, you may want to believe that this difference just happens to arise purely from environmental factors. But the burden of proof is on you; the null hypothesis should be that part of this difference is also innate.

    Bob, learn the difference between the kind of intelligence that is evolved and the kind that is not inherited (hint, one is an attribute of an individual and the other isn’t). Then come back. Maybe we can talk.

    Probably not, unless you can learn to begin a discussion with a sentence that isn’t completely incoherent.

  9. #9 trog69
    February 12, 2008

    After reading the comments by the right, is it any wonder this country is turning to shit.

  10. #10 T. Bruce McNeely
    February 12, 2008

    Watson’s remarks are about as scientifically valid as those of a creationist or astrologer would be (and are a lot more offensive). Would anyone for one minute accept an astrologer or creationist as the scientific advisor to Seed?

  11. #11 PalMD
    February 12, 2008

    Would it be appropriate to refer to SJG’s “The Mismeasure of Man” at this point?

    Some folks seem to wish to assert the (unsupported) statement that there is significant “racial” differences in “intelligence”.

    Since race is such a slippery concept, and there is far more variation among pooled individuals than among different ethnic groups, the whole idea is patently absurd.

    Will a tree-house-dwelling Papauan score the same as me on a “standard” IQ test? Of course not. But control the test for significant cultural and literacy differences (no, not “cultural relativism”) and differences tend to rapidly fade.

  12. #12 Son of Priam
    February 12, 2008

    ” I think it is a grave error for Seed Media Group to continue to allow this man to remain in his position as Science Advisor.”

    You should put something on the line here, like the your contribution to this blog nexus, if you are serious and want SEED to take notice. If people like you start leaving for other blog hosts, that’s when SEED will take notice. Until then, it is like complaining about a restaurant but continuing to eat there all the time — no motivation to change.

  13. #13 Lee
    February 12, 2008

    Bob,

    there is quite a lot of evidence that at least some of the variation in human intelligence has a genetic, heritable basis. That is NOT evidence that one group of humans has a genetically determined diffference in intelligence from another such group.

    IOW, the undisputed fact that some people are smarter than pother people, is not evidence that whites are smarter than blacks. Watson’s blithering misses this, as does your straw-man jibe about evolution of intelligence.

    Especially when the races being compared are more cultural construct than boilogically coherent group.

  14. #14 Kieran
    February 12, 2008

    Isn’t “telling other people how to run their own political show” what Americans do best? :)

  15. #15 D
    February 13, 2008

    Yep, he gets a “pass” because he’s Watson. Deal with it. Watson’s record as an incredibly gifted scientist capable of showing non-scientists what academia is all about has left an undeniable (positive) mark on our culture. None of his statements are outright racist, and some of his opinions (and clearly, they are opinions, not assertions of fact) sync with those of the vast majority of Americans, who are notoriously superficial. Public officials adhere to opinions many times more offensive than those Watson has alluded to. I DO NOT AGREE with some of his statements (such as those described above), but there is no harm when a prominent biologists makes them-these slips, if you will, should get us thinking and push research and public discourse to the limits. These comments reflect the mind of a person who has been around the better part of a century and has seen science progress to unimaginable heights, with concomitant scientifically induced social upheaval. (He very clearly addresses these issues in his book DNA, and anyone who has read it will realize that these comments are based on a very thorough knowledge of the “nature vs. nurture” field; he is clearly not racist or sexist. At worst, he is a bit senile.) His interactions with the scientific world and contributions to scientific literature (both popular and professional) make him one of the most qualified people to be a scientific advisor to any organization. Before reading this post, I did not even know he advised the SEED media group, but now I will read SEED Magazine with all the more interest.

  16. #16 Luiz Cardoso
    February 13, 2008

    After all, how can ScienceBlogs, and Bly in particular, justify the continued odious presence of such a “scientific advisor” to an organization whose catch phrase is “science is culture”

    Watson’s remarks are about as scientifically valid as those of a creationist or astrologer would be (and are a lot more offensive). Would anyone for one minute accept an astrologer or creationist as the scientific advisor to Seed?

    CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK

    A whole lot of talk, huh?

    Why don’t you bring the science you braying, odious scolds? Oh, that’s right, because you are all full of crap.

    James Watson was right. He also happens to be the most eminent living American biologist. And who are you, again?

    Real scientists don’t cry and fart every time they hear an idea that makes them uncomfortable. You are a thin-skinned embarrassment. If anything Seed Media Group should expel you.

  17. #17 Bob O'H
    February 13, 2008

    Bob wrote –

    Evolution takes place at the level of individuals.

    A quiet word of advice – don’t make comments like this on the blog of an evolutionary biologist. If you’re lucky you’ll be laughed at.

    This statement is obviously not true – the genetic composition of individuals barely changes over their lifetime, so there is no way they can evolve.

    As for Watson, I heard him give a talk at the UEA a few years ago. He’s a devout individualist and free-marketeer. One thing he said was that parents should be able to decide to have offspring without the “gay gene”. Saying something like that is not the way to make yourself popular in a British university.

    It looks to me as if all Watson did was help discover the structure of DNA, and has then spent the rest of his life living off the fame. Does he have any input into Seed, or is he just a totem?

    Bob

  18. #18 John
    February 13, 2008

    Well, count me in as one who believes that regardless of occupation, history, or reputation, when anyone acts like a self absorbed bigot they deserve to be called out on no uncertain terms.

    Be sure to check out what everyone else here on these blogs had to say; four pages of results for “James Watson”…
    http://tinyurl.com/22otu4

  19. #20 "GrrlScientist"
    February 13, 2008

    bob (#8); evolution takes place at the level of populations, NOT individuals, as was pointed out here. should i write a blog entry about this phenomenon to clear up any misperceptions? it seems that is in order to make sure the point is not lost in all the noise here.

    Son of Priam, you are correct, and that is a possibility, although such a decision is my trump card, and is not made lightly. i don’t think that SEED will ignore us all for much longer. um, i hope.

    Luiz,

    James Watson was right. He also happens to be the most eminent living American biologist. And who are you, again?

    Real scientists don’t cry and fart every time they hear an idea that makes them uncomfortable. You are a thin-skinned embarrassment. If anything Seed Media Group should expel you.

    there are plenty of famous, talented living scientists in the world who are not racist and sexist elitists. further, if you think “real scientists” (and what are real scientists, if i am not one of them?) never argue or disagree with each other, especially regarding what scientific data show, particularly regarding the mechanics of evolution, then you have never interacted with real scientists. in fact, by the standards set by most male scientists i’ve ever worked with, i am rather circumspect in this respect. further, why do i need to excuse myself to you or to anyone? if you don’t like what i have to say, either prove me wrong (which you cannot), or disappear. otherwise, you are nothing more than a human noise machine.

    bob (#17), i originally thought watson was just a figurehead, but some of the things i’ve read suggest otherwise.

    martin, thanks! i am glad to know this!

  20. #21 David Marjanovi?
    February 13, 2008

    He also happens to be the most eminent living American biologist. And who are you, again?

    Two argumenta ad hominem in two sentences.

  21. #22 Bob
    February 13, 2008

    evolution takes place at the level of populations, NOT individuals, as was pointed out here.

    I assumed that as a self-proclaimed evolutionary biologist you would be familiar with modern evolutionary biology. Obviously not. The idea that evolution occurs at the population level (“group selection”) has long been discredited. In fact, evolution really occurs even below the level of the individual organism, at the level of individual genes. Read The Selfish Gene, or even Wikipedia, for God’s sake. But for a complex trait like intelligence, dependent to a greater or lesser extent on many genes scattered throughout an individual’s genome, it’s reasonable to speak informally of individual selection. Even in Darwin’s original formulation, “natural selection” selects individuals, not populations. That’s why he was puzzled by the phenomenon of altruism in social insects.

    Re Watson: Even if “all” he did was discover the structure of DNA, he’s contributed more to science and the welfare of humanity than any ten of us ever will. He deserves some respect. And if he’s made some recent statements that seem confused, irresponsible, and wrong…well, let’s see how well we do when we’re 80. If we can do better, it will likely be due to advances in medicine made possible in part by Watson’s work.

  22. #23 Chris' Wills
    February 13, 2008

    A Science advisor who thinks all people in the continent of Africa are less intelligent than other human races.

    I wonder at anyone employing someone as a science advisor when that person hasn’t cottoned on to the fact that there is One Human race. Especially when said person claims to know something about DNA and heredity and such like stuff.

    There is more genetic diversity amongst the humans living on the continent of Africa than amongst all other humans on the other land masses.

    Someone who doesn’t realise that Africa is a very diverse and large place (some bloodly awful, some wonderful) and that the people who live there are like people elsewhere, some nice some not nice; some foolish, some wise.

    Someone who seems to believe that everyone in Africa has dark skin obviously hasn’t visited North Africa or read a geography book.

    Now apologists might claim that Watson is just a senile old fart. To me, this seems another excellent reason for not employing him; why should a senile old fart be employed as a science advisor. Employ a non-senile old fart or a non-senile young fart or better yet a sensible person.

    Guess what continent I was born on :o)

  23. #24 "GrrlScientist"
    February 13, 2008

    obviously, you have not followed watson’s career very closely, since he has been making statements like these since he won the nobel prize. for example, watson began denigrating rosalind franklin before her body was even cold in the ground, making her own mother upset that she was being treated so horribly by a close colleague of hers. why did watson do this? because — unknown to franklin — watson “stole” franklin’s work (i.e.; he used it without attribution) via wilkins, her so-called advisor, and then he and crick relied on that data to provide the crucial information necessary to decipher the structure of DNA which was — BY WATSON’S OWN ADMISSION — essential for awarding of the nobel prize to him, crick and wilkins.

    franklin herself, according to scientific historians i’ve read, was only a few weeks away from deciphering the structure of DNA and had already published several important papers previously with important data and clues that contributed to what would have been her own nobel-worthy work (although, since she died before the nobel was awarded, she still would not have been given the nobel).

    what has watson done since 1962? good question. a casual search doesn’t reveal anything significant, so it appears that watson mostly has rested on his nobel-laurels while covering up his incredible insecurities by being vindictive and doing nothing more than making dumbass statements about science and public policy and making other scientist’s lives difficult, especially a fair number of young scientists — even a few scientists whom i know.

    there are plenty of scientists out there who have done a lot for humanity, but watson is not one of them. but if you instead want to talk about 80-year olds getting a free pass air to their racist, sexist and elitist grievances, think again. look at jimmy and rosalind carter, who are both in their late 70s (early 80s?), yet they are out there every day, quietly helping other people, instead of telling them that they are somehow worthless or inferior or they deserve their bad situation or that they need to be fixed by genetic engineering or what-have-you.

  24. #25 mr. gunn
    February 13, 2008

    As you clearly understand, Dr. Watson has been an asshole for quite some time. However, he’s also been on the board of Seed for quite some time, and all this time you’ve said nothing.

    Why make a big deal about it now? It’s OK to just let the Watson furor die, again.

  25. #26 "GrrlScientist"
    February 13, 2008

    mr gunn, the watson furor did NOT die down behind the scenes. i thought i had made it clear that Bly’s Canada comments were the last straw that had triggered this latest uproar, if not, i am sorry, i meant to do that. however, i am not at liberty to say any more about what’s been happening behind the scenes (although maybe in the future?), except that the explosion of this issue in public on scienceblogs during this past 36 hours has been heard and noted. but if we had not make a public stink about this, it is not clear what, if anything would have transpired.

  26. #27 Luiz Cardoso
    February 13, 2008

    …further, if you think “real scientists” (and what are real scientists, if i am not one of them?)…

    James Watson for one.

    … never argue or disagree with each other, especially regarding what scientific data show, particularly regarding the mechanics of evolution, then you have never interacted with real scientists.

    What the hell kind of sleight of hand is this? Of course real scientists disagree with each other over data! They disagree using FACTS and ARGUMENTS, not violence or personal attacks. And which column do you think we should put this “fire Watson, he made me cry” post under? The real scientists at Gene Expression used references from scientific journals to show Watson was telling the truth. The fake scientists at “Living the Scientific Life” didn’t bother to show that Watson was wrong, just attacked him personally and tried to get him fired from his job because his ideas made them feel sad. If hearing different ideas and being analytical are so viscerally upsetting to you, perhaps science wasn’t the best career choice.

    further, why do i need to excuse myself to you or to anyone?

    Why does James Watson need to excuse himself to you or anyone? Blah blah blah.

    if you don’t like what i have to say, either prove me wrong (which you cannot),

    Hello. I ALREADY provided a link to a detailed analysis. James Watson was right.

    …or disappear. otherwise, you are nothing more than a human noise machine.

    Look who’s talking. If you don’t like what Watson has to say, why don’t you prove him wrong (which you haven’t, since you can’t), or disappear from Seed blogs? You know instead of trying to push him off for offending your fatuous sensibilities.

  27. #28 "GrrlScientist"
    February 13, 2008

    violence? fake scientist? ooookay, obviously, you are a few sandwiches short of a decent picnic.

  28. #29 Chris' Wills
    February 13, 2008

    Look who’s talking. If you don’t like what Watson has to say, why don’t you prove him wrong (which you haven’t, since you can’t), …..
    Posted by: Luiz Cardoso

    He is obviously wrong, or do you really believe that there is such a thing as an African race of humans as distinct from white wallah humans in North America and Europe.

    Next you’ll be claiming that people from Africa aren’t really truly people.

    There are reasons why Africa has problems; much of which is due to corruption and inter-tribal fighting some due to well meaning meddling by outsiders (i.e. Sweden aiding and abetting collectivisation of farms in Tanganika (Tanzania nowadays)surplus exporter to importer in short order springs to mind). Non that correlates to intelligence, whatever that is.

  29. #30 Luiz Cardoso
    February 13, 2008

    violence? fake scientist? ooookay, obviously, you are a few sandwiches short of a decent picnic.

    I didn’t say you did something violent, I lumped violence in with the class of ‘fake scientist’ methods for resolving data disagreements, like trying to get someone fired. Yee shall know them by their fruits…

    He is obviously wrong, or do you really believe that there is such a thing as an African race of humans as distinct from white wallah humans in North America and Europe.

    Of course they are distinct at the gene level, which is why we can identify amount of African and European ancestry by any random handful of SNPs. Look, if you are this ignorant of population genetics, maybe you shouldn’t be lecturing fricking James Watson! Look at the post I linked. You can put in the rs number of almost any allele into the HapMap and see it differs in frequency between the West African and North European populations. This includes alleles we’ve already linked to intelligence test performance.

    Next you’ll be claiming that people from Africa aren’t really truly people.

    Such a stunning display of logic! You folks here are too much. I don’t know how someone like James Watson could ever match your sharp scientific minds. Clearly such a man doesn’t deserve to be in your esteemed and accomplished company.

  30. #31 mr. gunn
    February 13, 2008

    Wasn’t he on the board even when you joined scienceblogs? If you’re looking for the ship going to the moral higher ground, that one has long since sailed, dear.

    If this whole thing is just a foil for a honest, non-ad hominem, debate about what exactly are the differences in the races besides skin color, then carry on.

    “if we had not make a public stink about this, it is not clear what, if anything would have transpired.”

    If you’re trying to make a public stink because Seed won’t do what you want them to, then shame on you. Less talking, more listening and thinking may be required.

  31. #32 "GrrlScientist"
    February 13, 2008

    luiz, EXACTLY! that’s what i’ve been saying. watson should clearly Go Away.

    and gee, mr gunn, why don’t you just pat me on the head and whack my cute little bottom while you are at it?

    okay, i think i have to speak reeeaaalllly slllooowwwly for this, but here it goes, just for all of you misogynists and racists and elitists;

    scienceblogs is a community of scientists, as the name implies. apparently, you are not interested to listen to me, so i’ll quote one of my colleagues whom i completely agree with; if someone in your professional community does something that is bad for that professional community, you’re supposed to call them out on it. not doing so is opting out of your responsibilities as a member of that professional community.

  32. #33 Luiz Cardoso
    February 13, 2008

    if someone in your professional community does something that is bad for that professional community, you’re supposed to call them out on it

    Voicing scientific facts and/or perfectly legitimate theories is not bad for the scientific community, while punishing people professionally for violating topical taboos is very very very very bad for the scientific community.

    You are the one hurting your professional community with this jackbooted, authoritarian bullcrap. In science ideas are fought with ideas, not with vigilantism. Period.

  33. #34 Alun
    February 13, 2008

    Luiz I have three questions.

    1. Can you give me an acultural measure of intelligence? In simple words please because despite having an MPhil from Cambridge my IQ is only 76.

    2. If his comments have been condemned by his scientific peers, causing him to be sacked from his job, would that not suggest that GrrlScientist has a point or is she not permitted to have an opinion you dislike? Are the other scientists also forbidden from expressing their opinions? Could you point me to the reference source that tells me what bloggers are and are not allowed to say on their blogs?

    3. Did you read the comments on the GNXP post you cite? How do you rule out the noise from cultural, nutritional, historical and economic factors?

    If you can answer that last one your talent is wasted in a comment box, you should be lead story in Nature.

  34. #35 John
    February 13, 2008

    “In science ideas are fought with ideas, not with vigilantism.”

    You’re absolutely right. When a bigoted asshole makes a significant contribution in an area of scientific study, credit is objectively given for this contribution regardless of the inexcusable behavior of the bigot. Unfortunately, as Mr. Watson’s contributions were not consequential in the field of bigotry, he remains a bigoted asshole, and we will continue to address him as such.

  35. #36 Lucas Trevino
    February 14, 2008

    “You can put in the rs number of almost any allele into the HapMap and see it differs in frequency between the West African and North European populations. This includes alleles we’ve already linked to intelligence test performance.”

    Regardless of the raw averages, even if it can be definitively shown that Africans are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent than Europeans due to these few genes, the data cannot be applied to the real world. For all tests, real world and genetic, variations among the same groups is much higher than variation within a group. Putting stock into the average variations is like believing a study with error bars the size of your head. While it may come out with a tidy number arithmetically, it is statistically useless.

  36. #37 Chris' Wills
    February 14, 2008
    He is obviously wrong, or do you really believe that there is such a thing as an African race of humans as distinct from white wallah humans in North America and Europe.

    Of course they are distinct at the gene level, which is why we can identify amount of African and European ancestry by any random handful of SNPs. Look, if you are this ignorant of population genetics, maybe you shouldn’t be lecturing fricking James Watson! Look at the post I linked. You can put in the rs number of almost any allele into the HapMap and see it differs in frequency between the West African and North European populations. This includes alleles we’ve already linked to intelligence test performance.Posted by: Luiz Cardoso

    There also isn’t any data linking the difference in DNA to intelligence. People in West Africa have different genes from people in East Africa (they are also generally lighter in melanin; very dark brown as opposed to purple-black; so what? No link has been made to intelligence (however you define it).
    The differences are down to different environmental selection factors (light skin in Nth Europe has survival benefits, dark skin has survival benefits in West Africa as does the sickle cell gene)

    I repeat, Africa is a big place and to make wild claims about a whole continent is absurd and shows remarkable lack of knowledge.

    I’ll repeat, as you seemed to miss it. As, apparently, has Watson.
    There is one human race, the fact we can all breed one with another and produce fertile offspring shows this rather clearly. Or do you, like Watson seems to, think that there are various human races.

    Whatever, lumping everyone in Africa together as one group is absurd and deeply irrational.

    Some people are dumb, some are dumber.

  37. #38 Chris' Wills
    February 14, 2008

    (they are also generally lighter in melanin; very dark brown as opposed to purple-black…

    Obviously I posted this the wrong way around.
    West Africans tend to be much darker hued than East Africans.

  38. #39 mr. gunn
    February 14, 2008

    So we can agree that alleles linked to score on an IQ test can be found in different frequencies in different populations, but we also agree that making a leap from that fact to the conclusions that people of African ancestry are less intelligent is way too big a leap, given the magnitude of individual variations.

    I’m OK with that.

    I still don’t see how bothering an old man helps out the discussion. This isn’t some grand struggle against oppression you’re waging here, this is bothering a silly old fool who used to be great and who’s now about to retire.

  39. #40 Luiz Cardoso
    February 14, 2008

    There also isn’t any data linking the difference in DNA to intelligence

    This is false. There are papers in the linked post.

    People in West Africa have different genes from people in East Africa

    Next you’ll probably say that East Africans aren’t even human!

    I repeat, Africa is a big place and to make wild claims about a whole continent is absurd and shows remarkable lack of knowledge.

    Yes, Africa is a big place, as is Europe. And just like Europe, a majority of it’s people are descended from an evolutionary recent migration (Bantu Expansion). It also shares some common phenotypes. Dark skin is one them. An IQ of about 70 is another one. Contrary to your arguments, nothing we know says these shared phenotypes can’t be due to genetics, while certain things we know suggests that they are.

    There is one human race, the fact we can all breed one with another and produce fertile offspring shows this rather clearly. Or do you, like Watson seems to, think that there are various human races.

    I’m missing how Watson’s statements are different from your claim above that West Africans “have different genes from people in East Africa”. All Watson’s statement requires is some different gene frequencies in different geographical areas (which exist), not mutual infertility.

    Any attempt to show Watson’s claims are inconsistent with population genetics will fail. They are not inconsistent with what we know from this field in any way. That doesn’t mean they are true, it just means they aren’t false because of any a priori arguments from genetics. It will take actual collected evidence to show Watson is false.

  40. #41 Luiz Cardoso
    February 14, 2008

    Can you give me an acultural measure of intelligence? In simple words please because despite having an MPhil from Cambridge my IQ is only 76.

    The validity of the cross-cultural measurements is covered in the linked post.

    If his comments have been condemned by his scientific peers, causing him to be sacked from his job, would that not suggest that GrrlScientist has a point or is she not permitted to have an opinion you dislike?

    I’m not trying to get “GrrlScientist” fired from her job. She is trying to get Watson fired. So if you want to complain about silencing disfavored opinions, please criticize her instead.

    Did you read the comments on the GNXP post you cite? How do you rule out the noise from cultural, nutritional, historical and economic factors?

    Yes, I did read it, and there were answers to these questions in the thread.

    If you can answer that last one your talent is wasted in a comment box, you should be lead story in Nature.

    Nature and many other journals already publish papers, using similar methods, to look at complex diseases across ethnic groups.

  41. #42 "GrrlScientist"
    February 14, 2008

    well, guess what, luiz? not only was watson fired from cold springs harbor, but he also has been fired from other jobs, all because of his comments, not once because of what i had to say about the matter.

    yet.

  42. #43 Luiz Cardoso
    February 14, 2008

    For all tests, real world and genetic, variations among the same groups is much higher than variation within a group. Putting stock into the average variations is like believing a study with error bars the size of your head.

    If average differences between groups were not important, than people would not view average group differences as important. But they do view such differences as important. The average wage differences between men and women and whites and blacks in the US are deemed important within the US. The average difference between countries in GDP is deemed important. African poverty is deemed important.

    The sociological differences between people with an IQ of 70 and people with an IQ of 100 are enormous and important.

  43. #44 Bob
    February 14, 2008

    …not only was watson fired from cold springs harbor, but he also has been fired from other jobs, all because of his comments….

    I’m not a psychometrician, but it seems to me that the Watsonians are winning this argument, both here and at GNXP. More importantly, they are making legitimate arguments based in reason and data, while the anti-Watsonians are largely resorting to emotionalism and ad hominem. That’s important because, regardless of whether Watson ultimately turns out to be right or wrong on IQ, his statements on the matter appear to be well within the bounds of a reasonable scientific debate. The fact that a man can be fired for such statements is far more corrosive to the integrity of science than the activities of the creationists you’re always whining about.

  44. #45 Chris' Wills
    February 14, 2008

    Luiz;
    Lets return to what Watson said, rather than have you wandering off discussing what he didn’t say and pretending that your claims bolster his claim, and that what he said was correct.

    “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 lumped all Africans together.
    Do you agree that ALL Africans is a valid homogeneous group?
    Are ALL Africans less intelligent than people with little melanin and/or blue eyes?

    If you don’t then you disagree with Watson.
    If you do, I’ll refer you back to your own links.

    Trying to defend such an absurd statement doesn’t make much sense, it is not a well founded statement.

    If you don’t believe me, have a walkabout in Africa. Different folks, look different one from another (even excluding North Africans). Some smart, some not so smart; just like in Northern Europe or the USA.

    As for intelligence; try surviving in the jungle then tell me if the pygmy or you is the more intelligent.

  45. #46 Bob O'H
    February 14, 2008

    Folks, can someone remind me what is the global FST for humans? And has anyone calculated QST for human intelligence?

    The problem is that there is a strong cultural component to IQ – there are things called schools. Removing their effects from an analysis is difficult, because they affect both intelligence, and the way it is measured (through IQ tests). The complex diseases that Luis brings up are usually easier to deal with, because they are easier to define – intelligence is rather amorphous. It’s one of those traits that I would take a tactical decision to either spend all my time working on, or to avoid.

    For me, the bottom line is that all humans are genetically very similar, so arguing from SNPs will not get us very far: assignment test work best with rare alleles, and it’s not clear that they are involved in determining intelligence. Intelligence itself is a bugger to define formally, and it is difficult to make the tests non-culture specific (simply think linguistic intelligence). Getting solid results on the quantitative evolutionary genetics of intelligence would take a lot of hard work, and I doubt anyone would be prepared to put in the effort. So, there’s plenty of room to have discussions and disagreements, without the real data.

    What is clear is that Africa doesn’t put the same resources into education as the West does. Simply because of that, we would expect average intelligence to be lower. As a practical matter, it’s also something that’s within our power to change, so why don’t we? It might even make the world a better place.

    Bob – your claims that evolution takes place at the level of the individual is wrong. Yes, selection takes place at the level of the individual (and at the group too, although that is usually much weaker), but evolution is not selection. Evolution is the change in a population, selection s one of the forces that causes the change.

    Right, folks, enjoy what’s left of Valentine’s Day. I’m off to bed…

    Bob

  46. #47 Bob
    February 14, 2008

    Evolution is the change in a population, selection s one of the forces that causes the change.

    Yes, evolution is the change in a population, but it results from differential survival and reproduction at the individual level, which is what I meant by takes place at. I thought that would be clear from the context of the argument; perhaps I should have spelled it out.

    As for intelligence; try surviving in the jungle then tell me if the pygmy or you is the more intelligent.

    That seems typical of the level of argument around here. Try replacing “pygmy” with “chimp.”

    So, there’s plenty of room to have discussions and disagreements…

    Not if people are fired for having them.

  47. #48 Luiz Cardoso
    February 14, 2008

    Are ALL Africans less intelligent than people with little melanin and/or blue eyes?

    If you don’t then you disagree with Watson.

    This is an (intentionally, I believe) completely ridiculous interpretation of what Watson said. Not even the scientific racists of the 19th century believed such a thing. Scientists have always recognized broad overlap in intelligence. Not even uneducated racists think this way, as academic surveys of stereotype beliefs show. Scientists are actually hard pressed to find even one person who thinks this way! So your pernicious strawman is clearly just an inkcloud intended to punish legitimate statements by a prestigious figure of topics that make you uncomfortable.

    Especially because Watson explicitly stated the opposite of the viewpoint you are attributing to him (not that it even needed to be clarified) in the very next sentence: “He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented…”

    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2630748.ece

  48. #49 Luiz Cardoso
    February 14, 2008

    Sorry all of the following should have been in quote italics:

    “Are ALL Africans less intelligent than people with little melanin and/or blue eyes? If you don’t then you disagree with Watson.”

    Also should have read: “… by a prestigious figure on topics that make you uncomfortable.”

  49. #50 Chris' Wills
    February 15, 2008
    Are ALL Africans less intelligent than people with little melanin and/or blue eyes?

    If you don’t then you disagree with Watson.

    This is an (intentionally, I believe) completely ridiculous interpretation of what Watson said. Not even the scientific racists of the 19th century believed such a thing.

    So how do you interpret what he hasn’t denied saying?

    I’ll have to go re-read some of the US and European scientific writings on race from the 1800s again, some of the justifications for enslavement did seem to rely on such an interpretation.

    Enslavement in earlier times and even in places such as Muslim countries (slavery wasn’t made illegal in places such as Saudi until the middle of the 20th century) made no such claims. There it was spoils of war and being born of slaves.

    Scientists have always recognized broad overlap in intelligence. Not even uneducated racists think this way, as academic surveys of stereotype beliefs show. Scientists are actually hard pressed to find even one person who thinks this way!

    So you agree with me that Watson’s statement was ill founded, unscientific and irrational. Good, glad to read that.

    So your pernicious strawman is clearly just an inkcloud intended to punish legitimate statements by a prestigious figure of topics that make you uncomfortable.

    The comments on eugenics and/or intelligence don’t make me uncomfortable. Having a person who is lauded as a great scientist make such sweeping generalisations worries me as he is seen by many of the public as an authority.

    Especially because Watson explicitly stated the opposite of the viewpoint you are attributing to him (not that it even needed to be clarified) in the very next sentence: “He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented…””
    Posted by: Luiz Cardoso

    So he isn’t even consistent.

  50. #51 Chris' Wills
    February 15, 2008
    As for intelligence; try surviving in the jungle then tell me if the pygmy or you is the more intelligent.

    That seems typical of the level of argument around here. Try replacing “pygmy” with “chimp.”
    Posted by: Bob

    Fair question and goes to the main point as “What is intelligence? what is being measured?”

    Though I’ll stick to it intra-species.

    The Jungle environment requires very good 3D perception and excellent aural ability, the ability to do advanced mathematics isn’t of great value.
    This doesn’t mean that pygmies are less endowed by nature to do advanced mathematics, simply that their nurture hasn’t brought out this ability.

    So intelligence isn’t simply what nature has given you, nurture plays a large part and how each culture chooses to define intelligence will depend on what that culture considers as an indicator of intelligence.

    Language learning is another area in which nurture plays a very strong role. Most everyone can learn to communicate with others in their group (spoken or signed languages), learning to read and write however are nurture.

    If you are brought up hearing many languages and having to communicate in them your brain learns to hear the different tonalities, vowels etc and doesn’t filter out those it considers non valid.

    Someone born and raised in Southern India to a middle/upper caste family will normally learn not only Tamil, but will learn Hindi and English (Sanskrit as well if they’re Brahmin). They will read/write/speak three or four distinct alphabets and spoken languages.

    Someone from a similar background in the UK is likely only to read/write/speak English.

    Cultural expectations, education and social pressures all mould our abilities. Nature is important of course but nurture is what allows/causes those inate abilities to flourish or not.

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