Senile old fool

James Watson and Francis Crick made the most significant discovery of the twentieth century: they elucidated of the molecular structure of DNA in 1953, and later shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their work.

So Watson and Crick are very illustrious, to say the least. But when Watson continues to make racist statements such as this, he loses much of his credibility, and one finds it very difficult to take him seriously:

[I am] 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 [and] people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.

One hundred years ago, the belief that black people are intellectually inferior to whites was commonplace among scientists. The relationship between race and intelligence is still hotly debated, and remains highly controversial, but as yet no significant correlation between the two has been found.

If Watson was suffering from some form of cognitive impairment, one could perhaps excuse his statements on the grounds of diminished responsibility. But, as far as I know, he retains all his faculties, so really, his statements can only be interpreted as expressions of his prejudices.


  1. #1 BGG
    October 17, 2007

    It’s bizarre to hear someone these days say something like that. So how does he explain black mathematicians, particle physicists, neurosurgeons, and so on? For a smart guy he sounds pretty dumb since he’s apparently overlooking a whole list of social/political factors in many African countries that prevent people getting the depth of education that he takes for granted.

  2. #2 Caledonian
    October 17, 2007

    as yet no significant correlation between race and intelligence has been found.

    This is true only if we use pop-cultural definitions of ‘race’.

  3. #3 Anibal
    October 17, 2007

    On the hot topic of race and IQs, blacks compare to whites and whites compare to chinese people in relation to some intellectual dimensions such as maths, spatial reasoning, verbal intelligence, measure and flesh out by bell curves and things like that, i never found any convinging data or realible evidence pointing to a clear-cut difference that states that black people are “inferior” to anyone else.
    I recomend Watson to read Jared Diamondīs book Guns, Gems and Steel, or to be more a proper model of conduct in his statements (due to his role of titan of science) because he can be misunderstood by right-wing extremists (now, so trendy in continental Europe, say, the far right party in Switzerland that divide the nation on issues concerning immigration)that may use his statements for no good reason.
    Perhaps, are just senile comments, or he wants to surprise us with another facile statement suggesting that women have to be keeping the household.

  4. #4 sam mirshafie
    October 17, 2007

    Watson is most probably right that some parts of our DNA has mutated while the human “races” have been separated over the globe. We can see differences in eye, hair and skin color, and we can see certain other patterns within the body, so why should the brain have been excluded from evolving during that time?

    It is however very disturbing and sad that he makes such stupid claims about intelligence. Claiming that billions of people are genetically underintelligent is unscientific and sad in so many ways that I don’t know where to start. I say, there are plenty of clever scientists that have made very important discoveries, but that apparently don’t make them immune to being senile old fools.

  5. #5 gerald spezio
    October 17, 2007

    “Self-deception makes monkeys out of all of us.”

    This is axiomatic, and scientists are not immune.

  6. #6 Al Fin
    October 17, 2007

    Even if “blacks” average 1 standard deviation lower on standardized IQ tests than “whites”, that does not say anything at all about individual blacks or whites. Watson makes the mistake that many uneducated people make when he generalizes from statistical means to random individuals.

    If well meaning people deceive themselves just as much as bigoted people deceive themselves–which is quite likely–we all need to be on guard for both errors. We all have our prejudices that can lead us astray.

  7. #7 Caledonian
    October 17, 2007

    Claiming that billions of people are genetically underintelligent is unscientific and sad in so many ways that I don’t know where to start.

    1) Genetics has an influence on cognitive ability.
    2) Cognitive abilities in the broadest sense are distributed along a classic probability curve.
    3) Half the population falls at or under the mean of this curve.

    Guess what this means for your argument. Go on, guess.

  8. #8 Eric
    October 17, 2007

    Uncommon Descent, William Dembski’s Intelligent Design creationist site, used Watson’s vile words to condemn all evolutionary biologists. Ironically, they have repeatedly promoted the bigoted commentator Ann Coulter on their site. I recently flayed them for their hypocrisy.

  9. #9 sam mirshafie
    October 18, 2007

    Caledonian: What I meant by “billions of people” was everyone with dark skin, not just a random “half the population”.

  10. #10 James Clinton
    October 18, 2007

    James Watson’s statement can be reduced to three main hypotheses:

    1) That sub-Saharan African nations have significantly lower average IQs than European nations.

    2) That national differences in IQ have a significant causal relationship with differences in economic development.

    3) That these differences have a substantial genetic component.

    In fact, a popular and expanding research literature in peer-reviewed biology, psychology, and economics journals support all three conclusions. For example:

    Watson is by no means an outlier among scientists and scholars in his belief that people of African descent average lower native intelligence.

    A 1987 scientific poll published in the American Psychologist of over 1200 relevant scholars (sociologists, psychologists, and geneticists) found that 46% – a plurality of those polled – believed the evidence pointed to genetics playing a role in observed racial intelligence differences, compared to only 15% who thought genetics did not play a role.

    And this poll was conducted before the 1990s which introduced novel cross-cultural, anatomical, and transracial adoption data. A 20 year replication of this poll is slated or sometime in the next year and will likely skew even further to the genetic position.

    Watson, one of the most esteemed living biologists, was taking his statements from the science journals, not just parroting empty, discredited prejudices. His treatment has been unfair and reactionary.

    I can’t think of a better term for the curious position of the Science Museum in London that Watson’s statements are “beyond the point ofacceptable debate”

    Is this primitive dogmatism truly representative of the spirit of the scientific community?


  11. #11 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    Yeah. You don’t get it.

  12. #12 anon
    October 19, 2007

    All this discussion is missing the point, that IQ tests don’t measure “intelligence” (which is itself a semantically loaded term). Watson doesn’t have a shred of scientific evidence behind his comments, which makes it all the more disgusting and irresponsible considering that he’s a Nobel laureate.

  13. #13 Mo
    October 19, 2007

    anon – that’s exactly what I said in the follow-up post I wrote earlier today.