Pharyngula

CSHL acts against Watson

I am distressed at this news: the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has suspended Chancellor Jim Watson over his comments about race.

I disagree with Watson passionately, and he is completely wrong in his opinions about Africa and women and who knows what else…but he has the right to say it, just as we have the right to disagree vehemently and volubly with him. This does the CSHL no good: it’s a declaration that their director must be an inoffensive, mealy-mouthed mumbler who never challenges (even stupidly).

Maybe that’s what they want — someone diplomatic, who’ll woo donors and visitors with soft words — and I can understand that desire. It’s a sign, though, that CSHL will not be administered by anyone willing to assert controversy, and that’s too bad.

I know, his personal opinions were repellent. But what concerns me is that future leaders of the institution will also not be able to be forceful and loud and aggressive, as Watson has always been, in favor of causes I care about. You have to be able to tolerate the tenure of assholes in order to have the possibility of heroes.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike
    October 18, 2007

    Hot off the press:

    “Nobel-winning biologist apologizes for remarks about blacks”

    “Nobel laureate biologist Jim Watson apologized “unreservedly” Thursday for stating that black people were not as intelligent as whites, saying he was “mortified” by the comments attributed to him.”

    The article:

    http://www.cnn.com/2007/WORLD/europe/10/18/nobel.apology/index.html

  2. #2 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    I disagree with Watson passionately

    That much is clear.

    and he is completely wrong in his opinions about Africa and women and who knows what else

    No. We’ve been over this. You’re no more right on this issue than you were when you turned the discussion about Idiocracy into a critique of the concept of Social Darwinism. Your arguments are aimed at strawmen and have nothing to do with the extensive scientific research on the actual topic.

  3. #3 Dustin
    October 18, 2007

    No. We’ve been over this.

    Yeah, no shit, PZ. When Watson says that he’s “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 doesn’t mean that they’re inferior, he just means they aren’t as smart as us.

    God, get with the program.

  4. #4 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    You… you’re making a valid (and actually correct) argument in your attempt to be sarcastic.

    I think you need to re-evaluate your position, because at this point you seem to have no idea what you’re saying.

  5. #5 Sven DiMilo
    October 18, 2007

    Nice use of the word “feculent”!

  6. #6 Voting Present
    October 18, 2007

    I would say academic freedom is threatened when they start firing teaching and research people for what they say. The CSHL press release talks about suspending Watson’s administrative responsibilities. I guess I really don’t care whether they hire and fire administrators. If Watson also has a teaching/research position, and they fire him from that position for something he said, then that would be genuinely bad news.

    I know that PZ didn’t actually bring up academic freedom, but that is the angle I would be most worried about.
    .

  7. #7 Russell Blackford
    October 18, 2007

    I think this is outrageous. However wrong Watson’s views on race and intelligence are, we need to have wide boundaries of freedom of speech, especially in science and academia. Once we start allowing scientists and academics to be sacked for saying something unpopular and wrong, we have no guarantee that they are safe if they say something unpopular and dubious, or something unpopular and right. What next? Peter Singer for his unpopular views about animal rights, euthanasia, and Zeus knows what else? Richard Dawkins for his unpopular views about religion? Me for my unpopular views about human cloning? And don’t say that our views are correct (they may not be, in the end … they are highly contentious) while Watson’s are incorrect.

    Anyone who requires the freedom to express unpopular ideas, as I certainly do, should be appalled at this action.

  8. #8 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    There are no empirical entities defined in the first place.

    Um, no. There’s been a massive amount of scientific research on this topic – it’s why we know that the social categories of race have very little if anything to do with the underlying biology in the first place.

    ‘Race’ means nothing. ‘Ethnicity’ means quite a bit, at least on the population level – certainly much more than we would have thought before modern genetics research was attempted. Specific data from an individual always trumps statistical predictions about whatever groups and populations they belong to, but you can’t ignore the statistical predictions as though they didn’t exist.

  9. #9 David Wilford
    October 18, 2007

    A very good point about g that’s worth pointing to here, via Crooked Timber:

    g, a Statistical Myth

  10. #10 David Wilford
    October 18, 2007

    Who would have thought Pharyngula was a haven for damned dumb racists?

    My own take on this flap is that those who are giving credence to Watson as merely saying some crudely put truths are giving g an explanatory power it doesn’t rate. Watson ought to know better, but like Louis Agassiz he may have a quirk about race lurking somewhere in his personal past. It wasn’t that long ago that Jim Crow was the law of the land, after all.

  11. #11 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    Who would have thought Pharyngula was a haven for damned dumb racists?

    Nice.

    Unfortunately, the scientific evidence clearly indicates that various ethnic groups do vary in subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways. Acknowledging that isn’t being racist, it’s being intellectually honest – which I have never once seen you manage on issues that push your buttons.

    Some groups do better than the Western norm – in some cases, a lot better. Is acknowledging that also racism? Or no, let me guess – it’s all education and upbringing in those cases, despite the complete failure of virtually all attempts to increase cognitive potential in healthy subjects? (Music is the sole exception – but then music and cognition are related in lots of weird ways.)

    Do you also reject scientific research into how drug metabolism varies between ethnic groups, too?

  12. #12 notthedroids
    October 18, 2007

    Perhaps Cold Spring Harbor is more concerned with doing good science than “assert[ing] controversy”.

    Just a guess.

  13. #13 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    Watson was most decidedly not singling out any one of Africa’s plethora of “ethnicities”, he was blanketing a continent with the implication of inferiority.

    In an informal setting, I’d say that’s pretty much accurate. There are quite a few subgroups within the larger category of sub-Saharan Africans, but the measured IQ discrepancy is found across the board – to slightly varying levels IIRC.

    The actual issue here isn’t that most of Africa doesn’t perform as well on psychometric tests. That’s simply a fact (no matter how much some people choose to deny it). The issue is determining what factors are responsible for this difference and what their relative weights are.

    Quite a lot of people are objecting to the very idea that there could be a genetic component to this difference, and sadly the quality of their claims doesn’t match their certainty. We have absolutely no reason to believe that ethnicities vary in all sorts of traits except mental ones.

    The number of people who want to follow Stephen Jay Gould and automatically characterize any scientific findings that seem to agree with popular racial stereotypes as wrong is shocking, given that they’re nominally supporters of the scientific method. The damning thing about stereotypes is that they’re quite often more accurate than we’d like them to be.

  14. #14 Elf Eye
    October 19, 2007

    “…he has the right to say it, just as we have the right to disagree vehemently and volubly with him. This does the CSHL no good: it’s a declaration that their director must be an inoffensive, mealy-mouthed mumbler who never challenges (even stupidly).”

    It is true that Watson has the “right to say it,” but CSHL, a private entity, likewise has the right not to employ him if he, as a very visible figure, tarnishes the institution’s reputation. Moreover, suspending Watson is hardly a “a declaration that their director must be an inoffensive, mealy-mouthed mumbler who never challenges….” There are many gradations between making idiotic, even racist, assertions and being so inoffensive as to be mealy-mouthed. Rejecting the one extreme does not necessitate embracing the other. I do hope that PZ has not become trapped within the tentacles of the many-armed fallacy of the excluded middle.

  15. #15 pdiddysl
    October 19, 2007

    Watson has apologized for his remarks and points out there is no scientific basis for the belief that Africans are “genetically inferior”.

  16. #16 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    he every once in a while reveals a level of bigotry that would make him right at home in the KKK

    Extraordinary. What positions have I ever expressed that would make me accepted by White Supremacists? The scientific research on the psychometric testing of European Jews alone would probably get them to lynch me if they thought they could get away with it. If I recall correctly, they’re the primary source of the slander that standardized psychometric tests were made specifically to make Jews look good.

    But so far he’s making the best argument of all of you that I might be wrong in that.

    How? By pointing out that you systematically misrepresent a specific category of topics? I’m not the only person to have publically noted that you like to poison certain discussions. Banning me isn’t going to make me the only one to call you on it.

    But what’s truly sad is that the only way you can condemn the views I’ve expressed is by lying about what they are. Or maybe they’re not lies, and you actually believe them – that would be much sadder.

    ***

    Caledonian, pardon me if I missed this in the other threads, but could you, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, post the top 5 (roughly) best papers/sources for your view? I mean if you had to point one in a direction. Titles, authors, and journal names would be great. Thank you.

    People have already posted links to journal articles discussing the various relevant phenomena. I’m sure you can find them on your own.

  17. #17 CP
    October 19, 2007

    PZ — I don’t think that this can be taken as a reflection of CSHL’s position on scientific controversy. It’s easier to interpret it as their position on whether their Chancellor and spokesperson should go around espousing nonscientific nonsense.

    To pull out a favorite example of yours, here’s a WhatIf: What if the Chancellor of CSHL said something like, “All of genomics is based on the idea that descent from a common ancestor can be deduced from conservation of sequence…but of course that doesn’t take into account the equally valid theory of Intelligent Design”, and the CSHL board suspended him?

    The suspension wouldn’t be for espousing a controversial scientific position; it would be for espousing a totally nonscientific position whose advocacy by a major figure in science would undercut the basis of the entire enterprise. It would have nothing to do with scientific freedom, except inasmuch as scientific freedom extends to things like creationism or HIV denialism.

    The Chancellor of CSHL should be a paragon of scientific rigor; Watson is anything but, and his propensity to wrap his racist views in scientific sheep’s clothing is nothing new. It’s been at best a poorly kept secret for at least the past decade, an embarrassment to all who have to rub shoulders with him, and something we have always feared would come out in a major public way (like this) — and it’s evidence that he’s not a scientific role model, or even merely competent to interpret and promulgate scientific positions. I think that’s a very different issue from academic freedom, and it’s a mistake the conflate the two.
    .

  18. #18 David Wilford
    October 19, 2007

    I’ve been tolerant. But so far he’s making the best argument of all of you that I might be wrong in that.

    Well P.Z., this isn’t the first time or place the subject of race and intelligence has caused a flap, and it won’t be the last either. As far as I know, there hasn’t been anything really new said about it for the past ten years since the controversy over The Bell Curve took place, which is what makes Watson’s bigoted remarks all the more dismaying.

    That said, the comment section here isn’t representing anything except the thoughts of those who post here and I have no problem dealing with that. Sometimes I even get prompted to relearn a thing or two as a result of being irritated, and occasionally even change my mind about something. If there’s a good reason to, that is. Ahem.

  19. #19 PZ Myers
    October 19, 2007

    Unfortunately, it’s often very hard to draw the line between endorsing radical but potentially valid ideas, and unscientific crap. That’s why we have this principle of academic freedom, where we take people who have earned their merit badges in the field and we set them aside and tell them they can say whatever they want from now on, without worrying about loss of their job. Sometimes that means we have to listen to old fools babble patent nonsense, and we cringe and are embarrassed for them, but it also means we’ve got people who can speak their minds.

    Now I quite agree that these wise fools with the right of volubility are often not the best people to put in administrative positions (I sit through faculty meetings. I know.), and on those grounds, CSHL is doing the smart thing and silencing a political liability. On the other hand, though…Watson never has been the politic kind of administrator. I suspect CSHL has profited from his notoriety. This really is a declaration that their administrators will not have academic freedom.

    Which is OK. But let’s not pretend that this will not have an effect on what future administrators will feel comfortable saying.

  20. #20 W. Kevin Vicklund
    October 19, 2007

    There is a reason for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories to be hypersensitive about genetic-based racism. It was the American center for eugenics in the early 20th century. That’s a history I’m pretty sure the current admin wants to play down as much as possible.

  21. #21 Laura
    October 19, 2007

    There is a reason for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories to be hypersensitive about genetic-based racism. It was the American center for eugenics in the early 20th century. That’s a history I’m pretty sure the current admin wants to play down as much as possible.

    W. Kevin at #42 is right. Cold Spring Harbor has a sordid history it has been desperately trying to play down. What Watson said undermines their efforts to redeem their reputation at a political and social level. They don’t need anyone resurrecting the spirit of Harry Laughlin. This current controversy with Watson must be understood in that context. A lot of people were left wondering if Cold Spring Harbor’s rejection of its eugenics past has just been lip service.

  22. #22 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t most people self-identify as a race? You know, the socially based, rather meaningless one? How can you then extrapolate to the genetically meaningful property of ethnicity solely from that?

    1) Ethnicity isn’t genetically meaningful, except in a statistical sense.

    2) Social conventions are a poor guide to ethnicity, but the two aren’t utterly uncorrelated. In the US, people who identify as African-American are quite likely to have substantial amounts of West African ancestry in their ethnic make up – as well as a very good chance they’re also partly descended from Southern slave owners. Of course, we can say exactly the same thing about some of the people who identify as White, too.

    To my knowledge, there are no traits that can be universally used to identify either a person’s ethnicity or their ‘race’, but some traits are rarer or more common among various ethnic groups. Having Tay-Sachs disease doesn’t mean that you’re an Eastern European Jew – it doesn’t even strongly suggest it. But nevertheless, it’s known that the risk of the disease is much higher among that population.

    For an extreme example of this, see the Samaritans, as razib recently discussed them. As a distinct subpopulation with a very limited number of members, they’re so badly inbred that they’re in danger of dying out from the effects of the delterious recessives spread throughout their community.

  23. #23 tytung
    October 19, 2007

    Hi Myers, I would like to know what’s the current research result on this issue, and your opinion about them. Thanks!

  24. #24 PC Idiot Thugs Go Away
    October 19, 2007

    Reuters fallaciously reports that the expert consensus is that Africans and Europeans are identical at the genetic level.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN1844930820071019?pageNumber=1

    I guess all those obvious differences in skin color and hair form are the “socially constructed” result of racism and poverty. Just like intelligence, they MUST be, because “race doesn’t exist”, and we are genetically identical.

    Or maybe that so-called “argument” against intelligence differences that every PC idiot on the Internet and in academia regurgitates unthinkingly is nothing more than an obvious Goddamned lie.

    Here’s a fun, eye-opening game for you “Europeans and Africans are genetically identical” folks: Next time anyone here sees an article in the newspaper or a science journal finding that a certain genetic variant is associated with some behavioral or health outcome, immediately compare the frequency of that gene within an African, Asian, and North American white populations on the Internet yourself using this method:

    http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/09/so-you-want-to-be-population-geneticist.php

    Now please note how in nearly all of these cases the gene you are looking at is NOT distributed with equal frequency between those populations. For instance an obesity gene might exist in 22% of one population, 66% in another, and 2% in another.

    Now please square that finding with idiot PC arguments that Africans and Europeans can’t differ in intelligence because we are “genetically identical”. If we were “genetically identical” then so many of our genes wouldn’t be so demonstratively different.

  25. #25 Christian Burnham
    October 19, 2007

    Oh- ok, before you lot all savage me- it seems that Caledonian is now suggesting a genetic basis for the apparent variation in IQ between different groups.

    That may make him/her completely wrong- but it still doesn’t make him/her a racist, so I stand by my comments.

  26. #26 Amit Joshi
    October 19, 2007

    Caledonian refuses to provide a single link to “scientific evidence [that] clearly indicates” that blacks have lower IQ, presumably by the very fact of being black (as against poor, malnourished, poorly educated, etc., presumably). He takes pains to post comments in this very thread, repeatedly mentioning clear scientific evidence. But when someone challenges him to provide even just a top few citations, he baulks:

    People have already posted links to journal articles discussing the various relevant phenomena. I’m sure you can find them on your own.

    Why do we take him seriously? Can we all just agree to ignore him?

  27. #27 Dan
    October 19, 2007

    Unless you’ve raised large samples of human beings in white rooms controlled by impersonal robots unable to inadvertently bring in outside factors, you can’t draw meaningful information on genetic predispositions to subtle mental traits like IQ. Such a controlled setting is a high burden to place upon research, but no less would be required if you were studying relatively minor variations in any other animal. For instance, if you caught rats in a field, sorted them according to genotype, and then tried to categorize all of their traits according to genotype, you’d probably learn more about catching rats in fields and the ecology of rats in fields than the subtle expressions of rat genotypes. To actually learn precisely about genotypes, you have to raise them as lab rats. Knowing the limits of the tools available to you is the first step towards doing decent science.

    The Bell Curve controversy is old and was supposed to be dead before it got dragged through these several comments strings. Let it die again, please. Undead controversies are harmful to brain cells and other living things, new data in the same vein as the old or no.

  28. #28 James Clinton
    October 19, 2007

    Racial self-identification and genetic ancestry are virtually perfectly correlated in the US:

    “Thus, ancient geographic ancestry, which is highly correlated with self-identified race/ethnicity–as opposed to current residence–is the major determinant of genetic structure in the U.S. population.”

    http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1196372

  29. #29 Pinko Punko
    October 19, 2007

    Wrong wrong wrong. They are absolutely correct to suspend him. This is a contrarian stance I think you are staking out. He is the figurehead of CSHL. He is very controversial on many things and in his position, he simply cannot add a disclaimer to racist pronouncements as “not reflecting on CSH.” This was quite brave of CSHL. He IS that institution. This can’t have been easy for them. Going back to the Larry Summers deal- the President of Harvard can’t just say certain things. Institutions that are academic should always try to foster free speech, but beyond this, institutions stand for certain values, and racist speech is not one of them.

  30. #30 antihumanist
    October 19, 2007

    “Institutions that are academic should always try to foster free speech, but beyond this, institutions stand for certain values, and racist speech is not one of them.”

    Pinko Punko, can speech be viewed as racist or sexist if it’s true?

  31. #31 James Clinton
    October 19, 2007

    Amit, here is a summary paper

    http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1076-8971.11.2.235

  32. #32 Michael X
    October 19, 2007

    I don’t often put make statements like this, but, I actually like Caledonian. He’s proof positve that while being pretentious and tactless at times (often), doesn’t preclude instant removal from the forum if the veneer of discourse is present. An important trait we freethinkers share that sets us apart from many other groups, and a virtue that we must protect. Much like the jist of PZ’s post, free speech isn’t free if you only allow what you like to hear.

    I would also like to point out that since the avalanche of distain and Admin rebuke have happened, there has been a noticable decline in the amount of invective put forth by him and a more reasonable tone has taken over. Almost like he’s talking to fellow freethinkers who all agree on the ideals of reason and logic despite our own human inability to always follow through, instead of talking to ants who are more often than not, insufferable.

    Lastly, Caledonian, I’ll make my statement to you. I’ve enjoyed you presence here since I found this blog maybe a little over a year ago. While finding you insulting and at times inept at getting an audience to want to hear what strong rebuke (and strong rebukes are not impossible to communicate) you have to say, therefore ignoring your point entirely, I do appreciate your attempt to not waver from a logical standpoint. Though never “Sagan-esque”, in you delivery, I don’t instantly brush you off.
    I’ll add that being openminded requires that I ask for evidence especially in areas where I have no knowledge or haven’t had the time to read up on yet. And the conversations on message boards don’t often give me time to make up for years of research that I wasn’t allowed as a kid. So, like so many others, I ask for references when I hear something that seems to contradict what, up until now, I’ve read and understood to be the popular scientific view. If you really are attempting to re-educate a large group of people about a popular misconception of race, then you must give more evidence for your side than to simply state that it’s common knowledge, and more importantly, common interpretation. Having seen this whole thing erupt and take over what is now four posts, I went out yesterday and bought “The Race Myth” by the preeminent biologist Joseph Graves and read it. He puts forward a strong case against what you’re saying, especailly the IQ debate. This of course is only one book, but like many here, he doesn’t see the evidence for a “generalized intelligence”. I’d love to compare his work to whatever it is that you’re relying upon, but you never cite or link to it.

    How can you 1) expect us to even pay you any attention when even good intentioned questions get answer with invective (though I give full leway to answering invective with invective, if one so chooses, though how effective that is remains to be seen.) and 2) how can those of us who seem baffled by hearing something we’ve apparently never heard regarded as consensus, and (for many) not for lack of learning, take your claims seriously with no citations. Respondng to a group of geneticists or other groups who should have an extensive background with the phrase “you should know better” is one thing, but we are not all geneticists. I’m an artist for example and I only know what I’ve taught myself from books and gleaned from blogs like this one.

    So to end this monolouge, where can I look to find what ever it is you’re arguing from? Simply stating a good memory, doesn’t satisfactorily answer my questions. I’m not saying that I couldn’t find it myself with quite a while to look, but as you’re the one stating the opinion, I have to believe that you can be of some help.

    Thanks
    Mike

  33. #33 Scott Hatfield, OM
    October 19, 2007

    Caledonian:

    For the record, I’m indifferent to the question of whether you’re a racist, personally. My old granny in the nursing home uses the ‘N word’ and I haven’t disowned her, and anyway, you’re not a real person with a real name at stake, you’re a cartoon character in cyberspace.

    Besides, I’m inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, human potential is at least partly genetic, and variable between populations. And I know that you’re inclined to champion the unpopular viewpoint, so I don’t feel any pressure to condemn you out of hand.

    But don’t you think, given the inflammatory nature of the topic, that you should take the time to actually provide the context in which you’re making claims, and source them, etc. ? After all, this isn’t some abstract philosophy of science issue that plays to your strengths, is it? This is real science, done by real scientists, in an institution which is both historically important in the history of science—and one which has a checkered history on race, right?

    Seen from that point of view, your approach is not helpful in the slightest. Someone with your alleged intellectual acumen and professed devotion to science should understand that, frankly. This is not the sort of topic that anyone who cares about science should play with carelessly, and especially not someone with the eminence of James Watson. He appears to have the good sense to realize that he stumbled, though. You might want to follow suit.

  34. #34 Leigh
    October 19, 2007

    Caledonian: “People have already posted links to journal articles discussing the various relevant phenomena. I’m sure you can find them on your own.”

    Gee, everybody’s being so *nice* about it. “Your approach is not helpful in the slightest.” “So, like so many others, I ask for references when I hear something that seems to contradict what, up until now, I’ve read and understood to be the popular scientific view.”

    I personally see no point in using sweet reason here.

    Put up or shut up, asshat. You made the argument, now support it . . . or admit you can’t. Fork over the damned citations or shut the hell up.

    In other news . . .

    PZ, I think you’ve called this one wrong. If Watson were a tenured faculty member at Ishkapippi U., I’d agree with you. (Though I would hope he would be shunned, as Behe is.) But he’s the BOSS, the public face of a research institute. The boss is not supposed to be a bigot, and no self-respecting institution should have to support one who is.

  35. #35 Some One
    October 19, 2007

    Watson may be an outstanding scientist, earning early fame by discovering the DNA structure. He spent almost all his summer times in CSH and had all the connections one needs. Being the chancellor of the institute evolved rather as a habit, since he’s the only one left alive from “the good old days”, than based on his leading and diplomatic skills. Plus, as a Nobel laureate he brings in money, simply by playing tennis, eating chocolate ice cream and mumbling (gosh, he’s hard to understand!).

    If you go through the interviewees for the Watson School of Biological Sciences, I’m sure you’d find plenty of students who’d confirm his racist comments – they do come up in the interviews frequently.

  36. #36 Pinko Punko
    October 19, 2007

    Matt,
    Some backstory: Watson built CSHL into what it is today. He lives on site. He’s the Chancellor because he’s been a driving force of that place. He really pushed it when he was at Harvard (he used to be both places before leaving Harvard for CSH).

  37. #37 Paco
    October 19, 2007

    Re: Kevin #42 and Laura #46

    Cold Spring Harbor Labs (CSHL) definitely has the eugenics history to live down, but it’s not trying to hide it. One reason the public Human Genome Project has devoted (at least for most of its history) one-tenth of its funding to Ethical, Legal and Social Implications of genomics research is the past mis-use of genetics and evolutionary arguments for racist and genocidal purposes. Conferences at CSHL regularly mine this shameful history for Lessons on What Not To Do.

    Jim Watson has, as an administrator, been fundamental to the renewed succes of CSHL and to the founding of the Human Genome Project, giving the lie to the claim that he was just a lucky schmo in the 1950s. He’s creative and visionary, and has pushed science in the right directions — including the ethical, legal and social aspects of the research.

    Unfortunately, he’s a Jekyll and Hyde character, sabotaging his good institutional work when he lets fly with boneheaded speculations in public. He and CSHL have had to apologize for this behavior again and again (for example, January 2007). Nobody’s going to stop him from doing research, yet at some point, the lab and genomics researchers at large have to say that he’s no longer doing a good job of representing us and the science to the public.

    Don’t generalize from this one talented but flawed man to the whole population of scientists; still, to avoid everybody thinking we agree with him, it’s gotten to the point he’s no longer a viable leader.

  38. #38 Graculus
    October 19, 2007

    Caledonian seems pretty credible to me.

    you haven’t been paying attention.

    Caledonian never, ever, ever backs us his ass-ertions.

  39. #39 thalarctos
    October 19, 2007

    Caledonian never, ever, ever backs us his ass-ertions.

    On the plus side, though, his comments never get held up for having too many links to evidence. :P

  40. #40 Laser Potato
    October 19, 2007

    What, then, of the Library of Timbuktu, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?…oh yeah, SUB-SAHARAN Africans.

    Seriously, what is it with this idea that once you go below the Sahara, IQ drops like a rock? Once again, HAS IT EVER BEEN PROVEN????

  41. #41 Colst
    October 19, 2007

    (I haven’t finished reading all of the comments above me.)

    I strongly support academic freedom, but I’m not so sure that Cold Spring Harbor did the wrong thing, here. Watson’s position isn’t purely academic, it is also administrative, and it is only the administrative function that the press release says has been suspended. Watson’s comments weren’t just abstract – he specifically said that his experience working with Black people made it obvious that they were intellectually inferior as a rule. It’s hard to believe that that sort of attitude wouldn’t have a negative and illegal effect on his administrative decisions. While the board investigates (we’ll see what kind of investigation it ends up being), they’ve taken away his administrative responsibilities.

  42. #42 Carlie
    October 19, 2007

    And interestingly, I’ve noticed that Caledonian presents him(her)self as an expert on every topic that’s ever come up in posts here. Either Cal has been in school a long, long time, or at least a majority of the time is pontificating out of an orifice other than the mouth.

  43. #43 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    And interestingly, I’ve noticed that Caledonian presents him(her)self as an expert on every topic that’s ever come up in posts here.

    Ha ha ha ha!

    ‘Expert’? Certainly not. But it doesn’t take a lot of knowledge to outclass many of the people who post their opinions on the Internet.

    I generally do not make posts on points I know nothing about or that don’t interest me. Sometimes I’m incorrect or screw up my reasoning, but I at least make an effort to provide intelligent, informed discussion.

    Wish I could say that for everyone here.

  44. #44 David Harmon
    October 19, 2007

    PZ @#32: And here I thought you were just keeping him around for a punching bag….

    I find it most revealing that none of those “blacks are inferior” partisans even consider the possibility that the problem with Africans might be… Africa!

    Consider the general pattern for “exotic invasive species”: you’ve got some random species that’s perfectly well-behaved in its own environment, but then you drag it off somewhere else, and it just goes hog-wild! The reasearch I’ve seen strongly suggests that the big reason this happens, is that the invasive has left behind not only predators, but parasites and other diseases, that formerly kept it in check.

    Of course, the ultimate ultimate invasive species is Homo sapiens, and we came from… Africa. And come to think of it, which continent has the most and nastiest diseases and parasites floating around? Yep, Africa again. So, why not consider that, aside from colonialism, the “problem with Africa” is simply that the natives are still stuck with all our ancestral limiting factors?

  45. #45 Histrogeek
    October 19, 2007

    OK I can’t possibly read through all these posts but I’ll toss in my two cents on it anyway.
    1. Watson is an ass. Whatever apology he coughed up isn’t going to be enough. Short of being stoned on some major, major drugs, that statement isn’t the kind of thing you can accidentally, or simply undiplomatically, say.
    2. CSHL was completely right to ditch him, even if their likely first motivation was to dodge controversy and the inevitable publicity dust-up, for 2 reasons.
    2a. Legal reason: As director Watson was likely to have at least some responsibility for personnel, even if indirectly (overseeing the person who actually does the hiring for example). With a statement like that, keeping him around was practically begging for endless rounds of discrimination lawsuits.
    2b. Scientific reason: Being contrarian and controversial is one thing, but spewing an ancient hate myth as probable scientific fact is totally different. Had he been able to point to ANY research at all supporting his hypothesis, things might have been different. Just as important to us non-scientists, he was suggesting policies based on an unproven theory, one that would have a profound effect on the lives of millions of people if acted on.
    3. Watson has just given a big ass stick to creationists spouting the “evolution is racist and eugenist” line. True they would continue it anyway, but why make it easy for them? I can’t think of another scientific authority who hasn’t been dead for 80 years or more who has made it this easy for them.
    4. The free-speech, open-inquiry arguement makes little sense in this context. Had Watson actually been doing research along those lines, that might be a point, but I haven’t seen any evidence of that. No one is actually stopping him from going on the James Watson Racial Superiority Tour 2007. So basically we’re talking about the right of someone to make an extremely vile statement without evidence and still continue to collect a paycheck from a premier reseacrch institution. No one outside of academia or the Bush Administration would ever be able to pull off that trick, and as far as I know, CSHL doesn’t give out tenure.

  46. #46 Bernard Bumner
    October 19, 2007

    Even a Nobel-price winning scientist who has made decisive breakthroughs in a relevant field will be utterly destroyed within days – condemned by his colleagues, subject of government inquiry and fired from his job – if he even briefly voices a different opinion than the established view (I.e. “zero mean group differences”).

    Except that Watson wasn’t simply dissenting from scientific consensus; his statement was actually completely unscientific, as quoted. He stated this much himself (in his apology).

    Don’t try to recontextualize this as some trail-blazing maverick against orthodoxy, because it is very clear that socially- and politically-neutral scientific research into the genetic basis of ethnicity, the genetic basis of intelligence, and variation in intelligence is ongoing.

  47. #47 Steve_C
    October 19, 2007

    It could be that he’s a doddering old fool and not useful as a Chancellor any longer too.

  48. #48 ngong
    October 19, 2007

    Is Razib banned here, or is it self-imposed exile?

  49. #49 histrogeek
    October 19, 2007

    Ash,
    Of course the Bushies aren’t allowed to make “offensive” statements like, “Maybe firing a boatload of insufficiently loyal prosecutors isn’t a good idea.” or “Hey, things aren’t going well in Iraq.” or “I don’t think the Constitution actually lets the president hold people without trial indefinitely and torture them.”

  50. #50 Marcus Ranum
    October 19, 2007

    Short of being stoned on some major, major drugs, that statement isn’t the kind of thing you can accidentally, or simply undiplomatically, say.

    Just a completely side-point, but.. Being stoned on major drugs is more likely to cause you to blurt out truths you normally hold inside. At least that has been my experience, from being around plenty of people in various stages of stoned, drunk, and tripping and having done a bit of it, myself. You doubtless know the old saying “In vino veritas” which is basically “Drunk says what sober thinks.”

    I mention this because whenever I hear of something like Mel Gibson performing a drunken antsemitic rant I assume that what’s actually in their head is what’s coming out. I do not approve of this, in general, but if you really want to know someone, get to know them when they’ve had a few shots of tequila, or a couple lines of cocaine. If someone is letting (whatever) leak out when they’re sober, you can pretty much expect a torrent if they’re doped/drunk/tripping.

  51. #51 Laura
    October 19, 2007

    #87–Paco

    Neither Kevin nor I said that CSHL was hiding its past. It has worked very hard to address its past and avoid replicating mistakes. Their efforts in this regard are a big reason they have taken Watson to task. Really, I don’t know what Watson was thinking to say things that endanger CSHL’s reputation.

  52. #52 Ashutosh
    October 19, 2007

    In this discussion thread, I am appalled that Godwin’s Law has not been observed so far. How come nobody has yet mentioned Hitler or the Nazis? Boring people, all of you.

  53. #53 Steve_C
    October 19, 2007

    If he’s at all in charge of hirings, firings, grants and promotions…

    it’ not just about freedom of speach.

  54. #54 Steve LaBonne
    October 19, 2007

    Watson was always an a**h*le. Nothing new there. Nor is he as smart as he thinks he is. He was in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people to do most of the actual heavy lifting for him. His subsequent career was disappointing, with his few major successes being mostly due to the fact that his name attracted very able postdocs to his lab.

  55. #55 hibob
    October 19, 2007

    The chancellor of an institution like CSHL has one true duty above all others: fundraising and development. It’s the reason you hire someone famous like Watson in the first place: an expectation of seven or eight figures more in grants and donations each year than you’d expect with someone less well known at the helm. An expectation of a better relationship with people in federal and state government. When Watson made that statement he poisoned his ability to meet those expectations, thus poisoning his ability to do his job as a whole.

  56. #56 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    Is Razib banned here, or is it self-imposed exile?

    I cannot speak for razib. But I will note that I do not recall having ever seen him post on someone else’s blog. If it has occurred (which is entirely possible), it’s a fairly rare event.

    Further, I suspect he wouldn’t touch these threads if we paid him. He’s already gone over this topic quite thoroughly, as well as Watson’s reply.

  57. #57 Andy_Panda
    October 19, 2007

    As I posted in another (related forum), I think a lot of this discussion misses the point, which I believe to be:

    “As to the race-intelligence issue, I think it bears little comment as usually formulated , since the first concept has no plausible meaning except in a social-cultural sense. To speak of African-Americans or European-Americans as a “race” is like speaking of “sled-dogs” as a “breed” of dog. It’s like trying to creating an insect taxonomy based on “bugs I put in my left pocket” vs “bugs I put in a blue envelope”.

    As to the concept of” intelligence”- intuitively and broadly-defined for the moment- Jared Diamond makes the point that our modern, urbanized societies probably select against intelligence (or at least are neutral) whereas recently hunter-gatherer-type societies probably had more severe selection pressures against low “intelligence”: “stupid” Inuit who can’t hunt, don’t reproduce.

    The only rigrous definition of intelligence that I am aware of is related to scores on particular written tests -which were designed, if I recall my “Mismeasure of Man”, only as relative gauges to weed out people with serious deficits in the skills required to profit from public-school education from those deemed capable of succeeding in the system.

    By this assesment, the race-intelligence hypothesis becomes “There are genetic predictors of scores achieved on tests designed by literate Euro-Americans, based on those verbal, patterning and numerical skils they have been culturally conditioned to value.

    Good luck with that , guys.”

    I realize that some of the analogies are a teeny bit extreme, but if you can’t precisely define your populations nor the attribute you’re trying to measure (or if you can’t demonstrate that the test you’re using measures anything objective), then whatever it is you’re doing ain’t science.

    About the only science of “race” that I’ve seen, shows how unscientific the concept is. As for “intelligence”, well, I haven’t checked, but I’ll bet the work is only as scientific as the definition of “intelligence” is precise and the extent to which the measure of that precisely defined attribute has been validated.

  58. #58 usagi
    October 19, 2007

    What bugs me is this: Watson has said something incredibly stupid and wrong. In a perfect world, which is the better solution…that we should educate and inform and correct his errors publicly, using evidence and reason, or that we should correct his errors publicly by firing him or threatening to fire him? The latter is certainly expedient.

    No one has threatened to fire him yet. He’s been suspended from work pending an investigation. That may sound like a threat, but it’s really the only option the board has at this point as the HR experts have outlined above. To allow him to remain active at this point creates institutional liability. Watson’s already issued a public correction of his statements. All that’s left is to play out the internal politics and the probably erroneous assumptions about the CSHL process from outside observers. This is not a unique situation for this type of organization, and it’s really their only choice. One hopes they’ll handle the rest of the process in a classy manner.

    There was a comment earlier that Watson IS the CSHL. If that’s the case, it’s a poorly managed organization that was just waiting to fall apart. No individual (and founders are the worst) can become the organization and have the organization survive. There is inevitably a moment of crisis when the life of the organization and the individual come into irresolvable conflict. It’s always an ugly moment.

  59. #59 Andy_Panda
    October 19, 2007

    I’m of the opinion that there is no credible research on race and intelligence.

    For those interested in issues of race, I’d suggest anything by Luigi Cavilli-Sforza for starters.

    The “Journey of Man” by Spencer Wells is an entertaining popular book/DVD alternative that discusses the evolution of human “races” in the context of modern hominid migration out of Africa.

    For a decent summary of “traditonal” i.e. single-test measures of intelligence via I.Q. testing, Stephen J. Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” is a good place to get a historical perspective and a sense of the statistical and other methodological issues involved.

  60. #60 Pete
    October 19, 2007

    I only think they should have acted more quickly. When this happened it reminded me of some of the outrageous things that come out of the religiously inclined but in this case it was someone speaking with scientific authority. His words were harmful to the institution he works at, to science and to the people he attacked. Its not as if he were a researcher at the institute and his scientific views were being harmed. He is the head of the institute and is in charge of the public image of the lab.

  61. #61 Tlazolteotl
    October 19, 2007

    The statement I read said he has been suspended from his administrative duties…. as others have noted above, I don’t see how they could do anything else. In any other business or government agency, if you are in a position where you have oversight over promotions and salaries etc. of other employees and made the statements he was quoted as making, really, you would expect the management to cover their asses. It isn’t a matter of his right to be an asshat, not if he evaluates/recommends/affects in hiring, salaries, or working conditions, because then it’s a matter of giving an employee ammunition in a discrimination suit.

  62. #62 foxfire
    October 19, 2007

    Jason wrote

    Watson’s remarks were stupid and ill-considered, but the hypothesis that reproductively-isolated human subpopulations have evolved significant differences in cognitive abilities is not obviously false. The hypothesis is clearly a sensitive one given the history of racial oppression, but that’s not a reason to dismiss it out of hand or fail to investigate it, and I resent those who try to shut down any serious discussion of the question with knee-kerk accusations of racism against anyone who raises it.

    I completely agree with your statement Jason and I haven’t seen anyone try to cut off serious discussion of the above hypothesis. I have seen a number of posters vigorously and effectively attack the presumption that IQ test results “prove” said hypothesis.

    Personally, I think the hypothesis you mention above is a bit premature, since we have yet to identify the specific influences genetics and developmental environment have on cognitive mental abilities. In fact, I doubt we have an agreed upon definition for cognitive ability: Which is smarter – an Amazonian human who has no concept of numbers beyond 1,2 and many or a mathemetician who teaches at Harvard? I guess that depends on the environment. If I’m lost deep in the South American jungle, I’m going with the guy who can’t add.

    I disagree with PZ about Watson because, as the administrative representative of a research organization, Watson should be well aware of how his words can be interpreted. In turn, I would have thought CSHL, knowing Dr. Watson’s views on certain issues, would not let a reporter get near Watson without a handler. Anyway, he’s been relieved (not fired) of his administrative responsibilities while the matter is under investigation. That’s kind of a reasonible reasonable way of handling things.

    As for that “genius” Caledonia, Caligula, whatever…..I don’t see it posting any references to research articles, as requested above, that support its position.

  63. #63 rich (richmanwisco)
    October 19, 2007

    Full credit to you, PZ.

  64. #64 Mencius
    October 20, 2007

    In case anyone is interested in the Rushton paper (“Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability”) James Clinton mentioned earlier, I believe it’s hosted on Rushton’s own site here.

    There’s another way to look at this problem, which is to ask which side of the debate should be considered the null hypothesis.

    Anyone who knows history knows that in 1907 – to pick a random year in the era of “scientific racism” – Rushton’s hypothesis was the status quo. The same was true in 1807, 1707, and pretty much all of human history. It is mentioned, for example, in Aristotle. Of course, the same argument could be used to argue that the sun revolves around the earth. There is such a thing as scientific progress.

    However, one interesting question is: was the transition from the era of “scientific racism” to today’s consensus the consequence of scientific progress? Or was it the consequence of political events? Surely, anyone who believes that Dr. Watson deserves to be censured for his words must believe in the former.

    One easy way to ask this question is to suppose that PZ Myers, or anyone who agrees with him, was teleported back to 1907. If anyone has trouble recalling the political Zeitgeist of 1907, perhaps this 1913 essay by Charles Francis Adams Jr. will refresh your memory.

    Clearly, to the audience of 1907, Rushton’s argument is the null hypothesis. To convince this audience otherwise, you would have to present evidence that there is no significant racial difference in cognitive ability.

    I find it somewhat disappointing that Caledonian did not respond with references. The Rushton paper is clearly a good start. Pharyngula readers may also wish to delve into the bibliography of the 1997 Mainstream Science on Intelligence statement, signed by 52 researchers in the field.

    However, if anyone can point me to any references (preferably non-firewalled) that present evidence for the hypothesis of human cognitive uniformity, I’d be grateful.

  65. #65 PhysioProf
    October 21, 2007

    Just a point of clarification: Watson was the Chancellor of CSHL, which as far as I am aware is an almost wholly ceremonial post. I’m not sure about this, but I think the post was created specifically for Watson so that he could transition out of actually administering anything.

    The person who actually runs the place is Bruce Stillman, the CEO.

  66. #66 tigtog
    October 21, 2007

    Jason #136

    the hypothesis that reproductively-isolated human subpopulations have evolved significant differences in cognitive abilities is not obviously false.

    Jason, the APA report to which you are responding only discussed differences between Blacks and Whites in terms of the USA population, so there is no reproductive isolation. African women sold into slavery were repeatedly raped by Europeans, resulting in a descendant Black population today that is an African-European hybrid. There are also huge numbers of White families descended from lightskinned African Americans who “passed” as White. There are other confounding factors due to interbreeding with Native Americans and goldrush immigrants.

    Many many people have been very surprised by what DNA analysis tells them about their ancestry. There’s a lot more to determining race than merely looking at the melanin level of someone’s skin.

  67. #67 Jason
    October 21, 2007

    tigtog,

    Jason, the APA report to which you are responding only discussed differences between Blacks and Whites in terms of the USA population, so there is no reproductive isolation.

    There was substantial reproductive isolation between the ancestors of blacks and whites in the present US population. There was even more reproductive isolation between other human populations. For instance, it appears that aboriginal people on the island of Tasmania were completely or almost completely isolated for 10,000 years.

  68. #68 tonyk
    October 21, 2007

    This man is not guilty of trolling, he is only guilty of being Caledonian. That is his crime, it is also his punishment.

  69. #69 Colugo
    October 24, 2007

    Richard Dawkins weighed in:
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/story/0,,2196657,00.html

    “What is ethically wrong is the hounding, by what can only be described as an illiberal and intolerant “thought police”, of one of the most distinguished scientists of our time, out of the Science Museum, and maybe out of the laboratory that he has devoted much of his life to, building up a world-class reputation.”

    That’s a little hyperbolic.

  70. #70 thalarctos
    October 24, 2007

    Watson has the freedom of speech to say whatever he wants, and he exercised it. His critics have the freedom of speech to respond to Watson. The venues that cancelled his appearance have the freedom of association to decide whom they want to be associated with, and the venues that did not cancel his appearance have the same freedom of association.

    CSHL has the right and responsibility to decide whom they want representing the face of the institution to funders and current and potential employees and students, and they exercised that right, not by dismissing him, but by suspending only his administrative duties while they consider the matter further.

    Where exactly is the ethical wrong here?

  71. #71 Jason
    October 24, 2007

    thalarctos,

    I don’t think anyone’s questioning the rights to freedom of speech or freedom of association. The issue is whether the way Watson was treated is really justified by what he said. I think Dawkins makes a pretty strong case that it is not.

  72. #72 Colugo
    October 24, 2007

    Keeping Watson as the public face of CSHL would not necessarily constitute a de facto endorsement, but it would link CSHL with these views. Some would wonder if studying racial variation in genes involved in intelligence was part of the institution’s mission, or at least part of its research program.

  73. #73 thalarctos
    October 24, 2007

    I think Dawkins makes a pretty strong case that it is not.

    I don’t see a strong case in the article; I see only an assertion that the consequences of Watson’s words were “ethically wrong”. I don’t see an explanation there of where the ethical wrong lies.

    If Dawkins has insider knowledge of death threats or anything like that that I am not privy to, then of course I would agree that that behavior was ethically wrong. But I don’t see where expressing outrage verbally and in print, even quite forcibly, qualifies in the same way.

    I do see a niche where the over-used word “tragic” might actually be appropriate (a hint, MSM newscasters: unless you’re talking about a protagonist whose character directly contains the seeds of his/her own downfall, not every death is “tragic”–but I digress).

    Watson has been always deliberately provocative, and prides himself on being “politically incorrect”, with a “bring it on” kind of style. He has admitted in his apology that there was no evidence for what he originally said (unless his apology was itself a lie).

    So to misrepresent the evidence on such a sensitive issue in a deliberately provocative style–possibly, as a commentor suggested, combined with the effects of advancing age and less ability to judge the consequences of his words–strikes me less as an ethical lapse on someone else’s part, as on a tragic (in the classical sense) figure bringing on his own destruction, or at least significantly diminishing himself.

    I think it’s really sad, and I’m quite sympathetic to the aging-playing-a-role hypothesis.

  74. #74 Ichthyic
    October 24, 2007

    Rimmer was the secret hero of Red Dwarf.

    Enough said.

    the “dancing Rimmers” episode still brings tears to my eyes.

    yes, without Rimmer, it would have been like Mash without a “Frank Burns” type character.

    but… do you really compare your role here to Rimmer’s?

    really?

    me, I prefer a good vindaloo.

  75. #75 Ichthyic
    October 24, 2007

    ….ah, here it is. God, I love the internet.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YPMLHAWXyrY

  76. #76 thalarctos
    October 24, 2007

    I get it, thalarctos. You’re really, REALLY offended by what Watson said. But I think it’s time to just let it go.

    Not quite sure what you’re getting at, Jason–clearly, you see something there in the article that I don’t see, and that you can’t point out clearly to me–but I agree we should let it go at this point.

  77. #77 Caledonian
    October 24, 2007

    but… do you really compare your role here to Rimmer’s?

    really?

    Rimmer was chosen by Holly not because Lister enjoyed his company, but because Rimmer was the perfect foil to keep Lister sane. Only someone as annoying as Rimmer could provide enough of a distraction from the hopeless wasteland of a life that the last human alive would look forward to.

    Only Nixon could go to China. Only Rimmer could put Lister’s nose to the grindstone and push.

  78. #78 Ichthyic
    October 24, 2007

    Only Nixon could go to China. Only Rimmer could put Lister’s nose to the grindstone and push.

    fair enough.

    will you wear an “H” on your head so we can make the distinction?

  79. #79 Caledonian
    October 24, 2007

    The conspiracy does not require identifying symbols to recognize its members.

  80. #80 Ichthyic
    October 24, 2007

    oh, damn, there’s an even better version, that goes into a bit more…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-MIlH3NM9ok

    sure do miss that series.

  81. #81 KevinC
    October 25, 2007

    Caledonia,

    Where are the links? Don’t give us the BS that we should look them up ourselves. If you claim to be an expert in a subject and be familiar with the lit give us links our shut up. There are thousands upon thousands of scientific papers published each year and it could take weeks to track down the supposed references you refer too. If you don’t understand that I cannot expect you to be able to understand the scientific papers you claim to refer to.

  82. #82 albatross
    October 27, 2007

    thalarctos:

    One issue that comes up is how I and other people outside the relevant fields will interpret future statements by prominent biologists about racial equality.

    When Petreus testified before congress, you had to interpret his testimony in light of the fact that people who said bad things about progress or prospects in Iraq got fired or threatened with firing. That changed the whole way any sensible person interpreted his comments, right?

    Similarly, next week when Dawkins or Pinker or someone, say, says in public that intelligence doesn’t differ across racial groups, how do I interpret that? If I believe those guys can say what they like without the threat of being fired, I can take their statements at face value. If I believe they will get fired for saying anything but the thing they said, then I don’t learn much about what they really believe.

  83. #83 albatross
    October 27, 2007

    thalarctos:

    I’m not trying to use the institution to get a sense of whether to believe the speaker, I’m trying to learn what the speaker really thinks, independent of the institution’s positions, which are surely taken for financial and political expediency.

    I am much more interested in the opinions of a Watson, Pinker, Dawkins, Wilson, or for that matter, a Meyers than I am in the official opinions of the organizations that employ them. I’m not planning on taking those opinions as gospel in any case, but I’d like to hear them without someone threatening those guys to shut them up about stuff they don’t want discussed.

    If our host here had to worry about getting fired for the politically unpopular position of atheism, would the world be made a better place? I can’t see how. Silencing unpopular views, even offensive ones, is a good way of making the world a lot less interesting, and making it harder to find out what other people think.

  84. #84 albatross
    October 27, 2007

    PZ at #140:

    I’ll demonstrate my ignorance here, because this isn’t my field, so maybe this is dumb. But if the boss just got fired for saying something unacceptable, it sure seems like the researchers working under him would get the message that they also had better not say anything along those lines. I mean, if the big boss of my organization got fired for political statements, I’d certainly assume that my head was much easier to chop off than his, and he sure isn’t a Nobel prizewinner!

    That implies to me that one effect of this could be to silence researchers on these questions.

    Now, the other side of this is, I imagine if I were a black researcher working for Watson, I’d be pretty damned uncomfortable dealing with him. I’m not sure how you address those two concerns together; you can’t suppress all discussions that will make some people mad or uncomfortable, and yet not suppressing some of those discussions may poison your relations with other researchers.

  85. #85 Colugo
    October 27, 2007

    Caledonian: He does? Doesn’t sound like it.

    Idang Alibi: “I know that God has given intelligence in equal measure to all his children irrespective of the colour of their skin. … When people like Watson speak about us in unedifying terms, we should take it as a challenge to prove them wrong by sitting down to plan how we can become world-beaters.”

    He’s talking about bad governance and social dysfunctions, not gene-based differences in cognitive abilities.

  86. #86 thalarctos
    October 27, 2007

    What consequences would you recommend for this individual who agrees with Watson

    People read his letter and agree or disagree, and respond accordingly, sounds about right to me.

    Raven T

    If you’re going to insist on using my old handle–I don’t anymore, because of the confusion with the frequent poster raven–there’s no space between Raven and T.

  87. #87 Caledonian
    October 27, 2007

    I understand – but do not agree with – your position.

    Your comments demonstrate that you do not understand. If you understood, you would likely not be such a fool as to say that you did not agree.

  88. #88 albatross
    October 29, 2007

    RickD:

    Very few people complain about Gould wandering into a complicated area like intelligence and making reassuring statements about intelligence differences or IQ outside his expertise. Similarly, very few people cheer a genuine expert on IQ like Jensen when he claims that intelligence differs by race in ways that can’t be fixed by social policy. I don’t think the issue is whether the speaker has done his homework, it’s the fact that the speaker is saying stuff that offends the hell out of a lot of people.

    And that’s the core of the problem. Some questions about reality have painful or creepy personal, social, or political consequences. Gender differences in brain structures or thought processes or personality are likely to really offend some people, but it’s hard to see how doing no research, or allowing no speculation, on those differences is at all healthy. Racial differences in intelligence are even more upsetting, and you can imagine almost any finding in that area being used by bad people to do very bad things. Again, though, never discussing the IQ differences, or never doing research into the causes of them, or never allowing speculation about them that can offend anyone, doesn’t seem like a very good way of finding out the truth.

    And there’s no end to the number of ways that statements about reality can upset or offend people. Biblical archaeology risks shaking the faith of a lot of believers, and biblical literalists almost can’t set foot into a science class without running into contradictions with their beliefs. Is homosexuality genetic, or learned, or caused by some kind of infection? How much of alcoholism, drug addiction, or obesity is due to genes, upbringing, or deficiencies of willpower? Do sexual-abuse victims really usually turn into sexual abusers? Are human CO2 emissions causing climate change? Do GM foods pose a serious environmental hazard? Does the death penalty deter future murders? There’s really no end to the personally or politically painful questions about reality, and yet, I can’t see how we can be better off by remaining in comfortable ignorance.

    I think the only thing about science that’s worthwhile is that we learn true stuff from it. Otherwise, there’s nothing all that noble about screwing around in a lab, or playing with gazillion-dollar equipment, or whatever. We might as well all go play tennis or read poetry or something. The cost of learning true stuff is that sometimes, that true stuff isn’t what you want to hear.

    And I think one part of science is speculation, in public. You let people say “I think X might be true, and if so, it might have consequences Y and Z” without crucifying them, even when they can’t prove X is true and lots of people are deeply offended by claiming X is true. I don’t see what principle you’d use to decide that Watson wasn’t allowed to spout off like he did, but that Dawkins could spout off about the goofiness and harmfulness of religion.

  89. #89 Stevie_C
    October 29, 2007

    Albatros…

    such a wanka.

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