Neurophilosophy

James Watson has been suspended from his position as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory following the racist comments he made last week.

In last weekend’s Sunday Times, Watson is quoted as saying that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our 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 is now saying that his words were presented incorrectly, making them open to misinterpretation:

I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways they have. To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.

I find it difficult to believe that Watson’s words were taken out of context, or that his comments were made on the spur on the moment, because he has made such statements in the past.

Being such a brilliant scientist, Watson should know that intelligence is ill-defined and therefore cannot be measured. One can measure intelligence quotients, but IQ scores have a strong cultural bias and are not a measure of intelligence. Perhaps these simple facts have escaped Watson. Or perhaps he understands them, and just believes that blacks are less intelligent than whites, despite the lack of evidence, because he is a racist (and sexist) senile old fool.

Comments

  1. #1 Charlie Green
    October 19, 2007

    My 92 yo Dad is becoming more blatantly racist with age but he has alzheimer’s; presumably Watson doesn’t have that excuse. My Dad is bewildered when I scold him for calling the help at his nursing home by the “N” word. “Why not? That’s what they are.” is his response. I try to attribute this attitude to a generational influence but unfortunately, while in the US Army, I met younger people (Boomer age) with the same attitude and not all of them from the South.

  2. #2 Cye
    October 19, 2007

    I am so sick of hearing about Crick and Watson every time DNA comes up.
    Why? BECAUSE THEY STOLE THE WORK! Not only did they steal (ok, maybe steal is a little harsh) the work of Rosalind Franklin, but they had the audacity to bash her for being a woman scientist. She got the X-ray photograph of crystalline DNA. This was the only difficult work involved in finding the structure of the compound, as getting a good photograph requires one to crystallize the compound, which nobody else had been able to do.
    In the interest of wanting to be a good scientist, Franklin waited to publish her results, but was still showing them around prominent scientific circles.
    Crick and Watson were given these photographs (which to a trained eye, is supposed to clearly be indicative of a double helix… they look like blurs to me), which they used to win their nobel prize.

    Long story short: Fuck James Watson. He is a misogynistic racist fucktard.

  3. #3 James
    October 20, 2007

    “Or perhaps he understands them, and just believes that blacks are less intelligent than whites, despite the lack of evidence”

    Despite the lack of evidence?? LACK OF EVIDENCE? Jesus what journals do you read? The Journal of Normative Sociology? Can you show me a single study that doesn’t find lower performance for Blacks on just about any intellectual measure you care to name? Whatever the causes, the Black-White intellectual gap is probably the single most securely established finding in differential psychology.

    Reasonable writers like yourself are sadly misinformed by the popular press. I suggest you take a look at some of the research yourself. Login to Psychinfo and get to work. Do you really think that repeated findings of native African IQ scores in the 60-70 range can be magically explained away? Oh but the tests are culturally biased! And the social policies and interventions we aim at African countries aren’t? The tests are not biased if they reflect the capacities necessary for the criterion. If the criterion is economic or educational performance in a western context, don’t you think a western test is appropriate? What the hell else would you use? If you think western-style education is going to help, wouldn’t the best predictor of success in that type of education be SLIGHTLY INFORMATIVE?

    Yes if we were trying to predict performance in native African culture, the tests would be very biased and much less useful; but we’re not! In reality, IQ tests are biased in FAVOR of blacks, not the other way around. This means they OVERpredict performance. Blacks tend to meet with less success than their IQ’s would suggest, due to things like racism and cultural values. Think about that for awhile.

    Don’t kid yourself into thinking you are helping African people by blinding yourself to their characteristics. You cannot help people if you willfully refuse to understand them. Watson is absolutely right, but this is another inconvenient truth no one wants to hear. I estimate it will take 50 years of failed interventions before western liberals can finally allow themselves to beleive that peoples differ dramatically in average intelligence. For now we will keep throwing policies at them designed as if they were white, and they will keep failing, and we’ll keep pretending we don’t understand why.

    Here is a few references to get you started:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Race_and_intelligence_%28References%29

  4. #4 John
    October 20, 2007

    The scientific community has become just like the Catholic Church in censoring anyone proposing theories that are not PC. Whether or not you agree with Dr.Watson, he should be able to have freedom to express his scientific opinion and have it debated rather than gagged. Perhaps they are afraid that he might perhaps be right. Now we will never know.

  5. #5 Amiya Sarkar
    October 21, 2007

    William Shockley, another Nobel laureate, also voiced this same racist remark. Whether they were racist or unbiased needs to be seen. They will be proven wrong only when a black person wins a Nobel in a science category (or contributes something major in the Science field).

  6. #6 Al Fin
    October 21, 2007

    It is possible to define “inteligence” so vaguely that it cannot be studied. But that is not what intelligence/IQ researchers have done. They have defined it cleanly enough so that their results do have scientific meaning. M is correct in implying that some topics are too politically dangerous to be played with.

    Celebrities often believe they have carte blanche to say anything they care to say, without considering the consequences. Watson has learned better, but is apparently unrepentant. He must think that opinions regarding scientific questions should be open to debate, and free of political overtones. Obviously, he was mistaken on more than one point.

    Had Watson made a similar disparaging remark about caucasians or East Asians, there would not have been a similar public uproar. Rather, it would have been known for certain that he was senile. Since he made the disparaging remarks about Africa and african-derived persons, the public response is well programmed and stereotyped–a matter of necessity, like disciplining a misbehaving child.

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