Race, IQ & James Watson’s great grandparents

Richard Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, discusses race and IQ, arguing that the differences in the IQ scores of blacks and whites are due largely to environmental factors.

Nisbett begins his article by mentioning James Watson, who recently retired from his post as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory following racist comments he made. Now it turns out that one of Watson’s great grandparents was African.



  1. #1 Jonathan Vos Post
    December 9, 2007

    Waston ==> Watson

    But fascinating irony!

  2. #2 David
    December 9, 2007

    I am quite a fan of your blog, but on the James Watson row I think you have shown a STUNNING level of intellectual dishonesty.

    Jason from Gene Expression has a detailed examination of the data regarding Watson’s claims.

    Do you have any response to this data? Any demonstrations of flawed methodology? Or is it scientifically respectable to respond to unsavory data by attacking the character of anyone who presents it?

  3. #3 Josh
    December 10, 2007

    I have two problems with people insisting that IQ is invariant across races:

    1)It predicates our sense of equality on an empirically falsifiable matter—it’s clear to see where this leads. We have a scientific culture that’s afraid to pronounce ANY differences between individuals of different races because if we do that, then they aren’t equal, and then we don’t have to treat them equally! Of course, this is absurd. I don’t care if asians are smarter than jews are smarter than whites are smarter than mexicans are smarter than blacks. I’ll still treat everyone the same.

    2)Wouldn’t it be remarkable if there WEREN’T any difference in intelligence across races? In my opinion, it’s patently absurd to suggest that there is ABSOLUTELY NO GENETIC BASIS TO COGNITIVE FACULTIES AT ALL. Now, this seems to be the assertion of the far left (keep in mind here, I’m myself a registered Green…), but it’s incredibly unlikely given all the evidence we have. In the time since the human lineages diverged, surely there’s been at least enough time for SOME genetic drift—and we know for a fact that there’s been enough time for selection: lactose tolerance among europeans being the classic example. So, it seems to me that, a priori, it’s more likely that there be differences among the intelligences of the various races.

    3)This one, imo, is the empirical clincher for me: Blacks in Africa have IQs hovering around 70 on average. Now, that’s 2 standard deviations below the average for whites, and a good standard deviation below the average for american blacks. That should say at least… something… shouldn’t it?

    *shrugs* I guess I’ve been reading too much lately.

  4. #4 csrster
    December 10, 2007

    How long before Watson uses this factoid to trot out the “I can’t be a racist because …” card?

  5. #5 David
    December 10, 2007

    Conversely, how long before Watson’s opponents trot out the “This means he’s a hypocrite and therefore the data is irrelevant” card?

    Oh, I’m sorry, someone already has.

  6. #6 Caledonian
    December 11, 2007

    I’m sure Watson CAN be a racist. But this far, the data do not support the claim that he is.

    Making a fool of yourself in public doesn’t become any less self-destructive because you’re doing it in the company of lots of people doing the same thing.

  7. #7 Al Fin
    December 12, 2007

    The genomic data do not support the claim that Watson is 20+% black. Neither does Watson’s genealogical history. Someone’s guilty of premature verbal ejaculation here, and in this instance it isn’t Watson.

    Science does not have an infinite bank balance of credibility with the public. It is better not to squander the account on silly and unfounded conjecture.

New comments have been disabled.