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 David Wilford
    October 18, 2007

    I have to disagree P.Z. Watson’s choice to espouse racist nonsense isn’t your garden variety nonsense in the U.S., given how racism continues to poison the culture. I suspect that the suspension has nothing to do with CSHL avoiding genuine scientific controversy, but with simply responding to Watson’s rather crude bigotry.

  4. #4 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.

  5. #5 melior
    October 18, 2007

    I’m with Dr. Myers on this one. If no one is allowed to say anything disagreeable, how would we ever have a real discussion about those subjects? His deserves the right to speak his mind, his comments deserve our ridicule, and we deserve the right to ridicule them.

    Plus, every once in a while people shown the error of their remarks sometimes have the grace to learn from the experience. I know a few folks who were raised as unquestioning racists whom I am genuinely convinced are better people today. Allow the man to revise, extend, and apologize.

  6. #6 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.

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    October 18, 2007

    No, I have been over it, and I’m familiar with the literature and the concepts — and Watson’s statements were stupid and wrong. And Caledonian: you can stuff your pretenses and your supercilious attitude in that same feculent gut cavity where you store your reservoir of ignorance, and from whence you pull your reeking opinions.

  8. #8 rimpal
    October 18, 2007

    Your arguments are aimed at strawmen and have nothing to do with the extensive scientific research on the actual topic. Caledonian, there has been absolutely no scientific research on the subject. There are no empirical entities defined in the first place. So whatever you dub scientific – and this can’t be put strongly enough – is horsemanure.

    I look forward to the IDiots’ reaction to Watson’s suspension. CSH acted to censure Watson for his racist crackpottery – so did they squelch academic endoresement of “Darwinism” or did they squelch unpopular voices such as their own? The assorted menagerie at di has its work cut out.

  9. #9 Sven DiMilo
    October 18, 2007

    Nice use of the word “feculent”!

  10. #10 Coturnix
    October 18, 2007

    “….you can stuff your pretenses and your supercilious attitude in that same feculent gut cavity where you store your reservoir of ignorance, and from whence you pull your reeking opinions.”

    Reading this passage made my wife fall in love with you!

  11. #11 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    We already acknowledge that all sorts of traits can vary genetically between different ethnic groups – well, the rational among us do, although I can’t speak for all of the chattering swarms who post.

    And we already acknowledge that genes can have a serious influence over all sorts of mental traits – again, the sane and well-educated do, at least.

    People who are actually familiar with the basics of psychometric testing also know that various ethnic subpopulations score differently on the scale of large groups. And yes, attempts have been made to account for these differences, and obvious things like SES and nutrition can’t account for all of them.

    Putting these points together, we are left with the inescapable conclusion that genetic differences could very well be an explanatory factor in accounting for the differences we see.

    When you say you’re familiar with the literature and the concepts, PZ, what you really mean is that you reject as racist all of the research that contradicts your pre-established beliefs and are familiar with the accounts that assert the conclusions you favor.

    You desperately need to have a long, long talk with razib – he can review with you the extensive scientific data on this topic.

  12. #12 Tulse
    October 18, 2007

    If Watson were just an academic, I might agree, PZ, but he essentially represents Cold Spring Harbor not just intellectually, but as an institution — he is its public face, and the Board of Trustees is right to think that these kind of remarks do CSHL no favours. His suspension is no more inappropriate than a company who fires their CEO over similar remarks. Would you have argued against this action if he had been “forceful and loud and aggressive” in favour of Intelligent Design?

  13. #13 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.
    .

  14. #14 Dustin
    October 18, 2007

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

    Actually, I have re-evaluated my position. My position used to be that you were a homophobic shithead with a borderline personality disorder. Now I think you’re a bigoted eugenicist homophobic shithead with a borderline personality disorder and, it seems, a single success in your life: your IQ score. Since that, evidently, hasn’t gotten you much else, you sit here and troll everyone about how great you think IQ tests are even though you’ve been confronted with evidence to the contrary over and over and over and over again. And then after being confronted, you seem to do nothing but stroke yourself about how great you are and how stupid everyone else is.

    I wish you could see what you look like without your narcissistic filter, because “smart” is not typically the word those of us who don’t pride ourselves on being aspies use to classify people so absorbed in their own belligerence that they dismiss facts as matters of interpretation only to proceed to proclaim their own superiority over everyone who has ever lived.

    I don’t need to insult you, you’re your own insult. You don’t believe me? How many friends do you have? How many people like to be around you? How often do people invite you to do things with them? How many relationships have you had? You can lie about it or you’ll probably call me presumptuous without giving any kind of real answer to any of them, but I’m betting the answer to all of those questions is “none”. I’ve met elementary school children who act more like adults than you.

    Grow up, and quit taking whatever’s gone wrong in your life out on the rest of the world.

  15. #15 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.

  16. #16 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.

  17. #17 Chris Clarke
    October 18, 2007

    Actually, it’s not Caledonian that bugs me so much here, though I’d not shed a tear if he went bye-bye, perhaps with the aid of a steamroller.

    What drives me nuts is that there are people a couple threads down who’re tut-tutting the completely accurate descriptions of his statements as racist, saying that such apt criticism is unconstructive.

    There’s nothing so disheartening as seeing the veneer peel away from someone who had seemed to be a person of good will.

  18. #18 Voting Present
    October 18, 2007

    Just let the noisemaker drone on, Dustin at #14, please don’t pay it any attention. There is really no point in talking to a wall. Although PZ was quite funny.
    .

  19. #19 Caledonian
    October 18, 2007

    Actually, I have re-evaluated my position. My position used to be that you were a homophobic shithead with a borderline personality disorder.

    As I recall, the ‘homophobic’ obsession of yours started when you utterly failed to grasp the substance of an argument I had made, and then began an endless series of rants that ignored my attempts to correct your misapprehension.

    In Internet discussions about IQ, I usually have to be the person who tones down others’ enthusiasm for test results and talk about all of the aspects of cognition that they simply don’t touch. I’ve never actually met a group of people ignorant enough to take the opposite position, that IQ testing is meaningless.

    What, you reject all medical and psychologic psychometric testing? I’ll bet the research neurologists trying to assess the effects of traumatic brain injuries and psychologists studying the nature of cognitive processing will be stunned to know they haven’t been performing science. Not to mention the people who specialize in psychometrics and have worked for years to refine and validate tests. Whole careers have gone into finding ways to eliminate arbitrary cultural bias – I guess they were totally wasted then, huh, because you know better.

    Extraordinary. Who would have thought that Pharyngula was a haven for psychology denialists?

  20. #20 PZ Myers
    October 18, 2007

    Tulse, I know. If Watson were hired as just an administrator, I’d agree — toss him out. But he also has this peculiar position as an academic, and academics have to be free to be offensive. And even if he were stupidly endorsing Intelligent Design as he is stupidly endorsing racism, I would painfully concede that we shouldn’t fire him, while all the while I’d be howling furiously at his every expression of inanity.

    That’s the difficult part. You don’t hire Jim Watson for anything in the expectation that he’ll be a tactful diplomat. If that’s what CSHL wanted (and I agree that that would be a reasonable set of qualifications for the head of an institution), then they shouldn’t have hired Watson in the first place. Since they did, I have to assume that they thought an obnoxious gadfly was useful.

    I’m also concerned because this works both ways. Will they hire a vociferous feminist, for instance, who’ll shake things up and aggressively oppose old-school chauvinists like Watson as a replacement? I doubt it. It’ll be someone who knows how to grease the wheels and keep a low profile.

  21. #21 David Wilford
    October 18, 2007

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

    g, a Statistical Myth

  22. #22 SteveC
    October 18, 2007

    (somewhat offtopic)

    Has anybody read the book called “Dark Star Safari” by Paul Theroux? It’s about the authors overland trip from Cairo to Capetown in 2001… 200x anyway…I forget the year exactly. He revisited along the way the school he taught at while he was in the Peace Corps in Malawi.

    Anyway, a lot of it deals with the culture in parts of Africa, and if what he writes is true, it’s a kind of vortex in which anyone who tries to make things better for themselves, by, say, building a nice place to live for themselves, or, well, anything, even the simplest of niceties, will have this taken from them. It also talks about the effects, plus and minus that the various charities and NGOs (non-government organizations) have (or fail to have) on the culture. The book is a pretty discouraging read in many ways, but very interesting nonetheless, and because it’s interesting, I’d recommend it. (And there’s a nice anti-religious scene in which the author sort of debates a Western Christian missionary woman on a train which serves as a nice comical godless interlude to the backdrop of African misery).

  23. #23 PZ Myers
    October 18, 2007

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

  24. #24 Ian H Spedding FCD
    October 18, 2007

    PZ is right.

    If you actually believe in freedom of thought and expression rather than pay lip service to the notion then it must include allowing the Watsons of this world to say things that are stupid and offensive.

    Why?

    Because that same freedom allows you to tell the Watson’s of this world to their faces that they are talking out of a different part of their anatomy as offensively as you like.

  25. #25 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.

  26. #26 David Wilford
    October 18, 2007

    If you actually believe in freedom of thought and expression rather than pay lip service to the notion then it must include allowing the Watsons of this world to say things that are stupid and offensive.

    If it’s the considered opinion of CSHL that bigoted views, however freely expressed, harm the institution by association they have every right to act on it by severing their formal ties with Watson. It’s not as if Watson can’t go on spouting bigoted nonsense if he wishes to do so.

  27. #27 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?

  28. #28 autumn
    October 18, 2007

    Okay, Caledonian, I’ve not had much of a presence on this forum at all, and I appreciate the contrary opinion as much as the next guy. I just wonder if you read what you type. You’ve gone on the record as admitting that “race” is statistically meaningless, as well as genetically unidentifiable, but “ethnicity” has marked impacts in various studies. 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. Unless you are going to point to a study that shows that all of the ethnicities, African as well as generations-old African/European and African/American hybrids, are actually genetically one “ethnicity”, you must either redefine ethnicity to simply mean “color”, or specify how studies conducted outside of Africa identified the ethnicity of the subjects.

  29. #29 notthedroids
    October 18, 2007

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

    Just a guess.

  30. #30 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.

  31. #31 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    or specify how studies conducted outside of Africa identified the ethnicity of the subjects.

    Some researchers just use self-identification. What’s remarkable is how frequently significant differences can be found based on that alone.

    You may recall the BiDil kerfluffle.

  32. #32 PZ Myers
    October 19, 2007

    I just want to make sure I get credit for this.

    I’ve long considered Caledonian a dishonest, pretentious ass, and he every once in a while reveals a level of bigotry that would make him right at home in the KKK, but I abstain from banning the jerk on the same principle that I defend Watson’s right to be a jerk.

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

  33. #33 cm
    October 19, 2007

    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.

  34. #34 Nick (Matzke)
    October 19, 2007

    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.

    Well, if he had tenure in his teaching/research position THEN he can get away with this. Otherwise, promoting crazed & crank pseudoscience racism would be a perfectly good reason to not hire a particular scientist, or not renew their contract. (Firing them in the middle of a contract would depend on what the contract agreement states.)

    And if he’s an administrator representing the institution, then please, he hasn’t got any leg to stand on at all. He has every constitutional right to say whatever he damn well pleases, but he doesn’t have the right to have a prestigious research institution support him while doing it.

    If it’s the considered opinion of CSHL that bigoted views, however freely expressed, harm the institution by association they have every right to act on it by severing their formal ties with Watson. It’s not as if Watson can’t go on spouting bigoted nonsense if he wishes to do so.

    Exactly.

    That said, Watson has just apologized:

    “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said,” Watson said during an appearance at the Royal Society in London.

    “I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways that 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 apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief,” he said.

    (Caledonian, take note.)

    Anyway, it is somewhat conceivable that Watson was being a Devil’s advocate, or generally ornery, or carred away or something during the interview with the Sunday Times and got misunderstood. Perhaps like the Pianka affair — academic pushes the discussion out of the normal bounds of A over to B to be provocative, but then gets interpreted by a reporter as advocating truly evil opinion Z because of the scientists’ poor communication/lack of clarificaton/lack of qualificaton and/or the reporters’ lack of context/strong predisposition towards interpreting the scientist as saying Z.

    It’s a hypothesis anyway.

  35. #35 LK
    October 19, 2007

    You can have a challenging thought provoking director without him/her having to be a racist. If he could justify the science, yeah sure, no case to argue. But the fact is that all the science done in the last 50 years without the prejudices of racism have shown that intelligence is not linked to race. For the director of a major scientific institute to suggest otherwise is frankly pseudoscience.

    Are you saying that the director of Cold Springs should be expressing false statements and using his position to justify them? What next? A director of Cold Springs that support ID?

    Watson has for a long time been riding on the coat tails of success for the ‘discovery’ of the double helix. He has a reputation at Cold Springs of being a difficult person to work with and I believe this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Many people associated with Cold Springs would be glad to hear of their stand against this man.

  36. #36 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.

  37. #37 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”.

  38. #38 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.

  39. #39 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.
    .

  40. #40 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.

  41. #41 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.

  42. #42 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.

  43. #43 Fesh
    October 19, 2007

    why are these guys opinions necessarily incorrect because it isn’t PC… I expected better of you guys – I mean, honestly, the fact that different races come from different genetic backgrounds implies that more than just skin color is different, and those differences could have more overt affects, such as, as watson suggests, intelligence, sexual prowess, et al.

    Honestly, I’m not even saying he is *right* so much as the essence of the concept of his opinions, the idea that races nay be differentiated by more than just what is immediately obvious might hold merit.

  44. #44 antihumanist
    October 19, 2007

    Any group of people who would let a completely preventable disease such as AIDS destroy their population is stupid.

    I await your replies to my provocation.

  45. #45 kellbelle1020
    October 19, 2007

    “Some researchers just use self-identification.”

    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?

    I mean, I can self-identify as whatever the hell I want, doesn’t mean I have the genes to back it up. And I humbly suggest that it is highly unlikely that all people in the US that self-identify as “black” have meaningfully similar genetic lineages. So, again, inferring genetic importance from that is kind of a long shot.

  46. #46 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.

  47. #47 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.

  48. #48 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!

  49. #49 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.

  50. #50 Christian Burnham
    October 19, 2007

    Once again, I’m going to defend Caledonian, who for the record once called me ‘weak minded’

    1) Charges of racism are inflammatory and don’t help any.

    2) Caledonian’s views seem to me to be the result of a more or less consistently applied misanthropy. He/she believes that most Westerners are stupid and so it would be surprising if Caledonian thought that the majority of Africans weren’t stupid.

    3) As far as I can tell, Caledonian has put forward environmental factors as the explanation for lower IQ’s in Africa. That seems quite plausible to me.

    Of course- I may be wrong, and Caledonian is a frothing racist. Who knows? Let’s hang him at dawn as a warning to other posters. In the mean time- if Caledonian is so obviously wrong (which he frequently is), then explain why and engage in debate.

  51. #51 kellbelle1020
    October 19, 2007

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

    Well, I was referring to previous discussions about race being a social construct as opposed to ethnic/population distributions that have more of a genetic basis (and, importantly, are not necessarily distributed by skin color). Perhaps a bit unclearly. But it seems we’re on the same page about this.

    “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.”

    Let me clarify my point in response to this.
    1)Researchers using self-identification find correlation between “African-Americans” and lower IQ score.
    2)The social convention of calling oneself “African-American” isn’t “utterly uncorrelated” to a West African ethnic subgrouping.
    …With these premises, isn’t it a bit of a stretch to make conclusions teasing out genetic distributions from studies based on self-identification? Particularly when the confounding variable of likely “white” ancestry is in play? I mean, “not utterly uncorrelated” is not the same as “correlated”, and even then correlation (as we all know) doesn’t equal causation.

    So, why, then, use studies employing self-identification as evidence of anything other than “People who self-identify as African-American tend to score lower on IQ tests in the US”? It seems like that’s what you’re trying to do when you offered self-identification studies as a response to how ethnicities are determined for IQ results in the US. And the correlation levels you describe don’t seem strong enough to support it.

  52. #52 Chris Clarke
    October 19, 2007

    Yeah. That’s exactly what I was talking about above.

  53. #53 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.

  54. #54 Chris Clarke
    October 19, 2007

    Sorry. Mine in #52 was in response to #50.

  55. #55 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?

  56. #56 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.

  57. #57 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

  58. #58 Amit Joshi
    October 19, 2007

    By the way, PZ, it looks like the distinction you drew between administrative and academic responsibilities was apt (from the NY Times, and by the way how do I add a link in comments here?):

    …the board of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory…issued a statement saying it was suspending the administrative responsibilities of Dr. Watson as chancellor “pending further deliberation.”

    Sounds good to me. What do you say?

  59. #59 James Clinton
    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.

    This is a caricature of how science works, invoking only perfect standards of evidence in order to strategically shut off all debate in perpetuity. We rarely have the perfect conditions to perfectly test our hypotheses (e.g. we can’t use a time machine and “watch” hominid evolution, rather we use the consilience of indirect data points)

    If a number of disparate data points similarly converge on a hypothesis, that hypothesis is progressively bolstered.

    Many experimental data points converge on there being a genetic component to racial gaps in intelligence (cross-cultural constancy, transracial adoption, brain size and supporting anatomy, regression to the mean, inbreeding depression, lack of environmental explanation). Few contradict it.

    The 100% environmental hypothesis does not “win” by default. It either is or is not the currently best supported conclusion based on strong scientific inference.

    The reason men like Watson are silenced instead of debated, is because the silence-ers are well aware that their scientific case is weaker. Force is their only possible winning substitute for evidence in this battle of ideas.

  60. #60 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.

  61. #61 kellbelle1020
    October 19, 2007

    Re #57

    Well, it’s a good thing I wrote “with these premises” then.

    Although… “…it is tempting to attribute any observed difference between derived genetic clusters to a genetic etiology. Therefore, researchers performing studies without racial/ethnic labels should be wary of characterizing difference between genetically defined clusters as genetic in origin, since social, cultural, economic, behavioral, and other environmental factors may result in extreme confounding” (same source)

  62. #62 Amit Joshi
    October 19, 2007

    James Clinton:

    Many experimental data points converge on there being a genetic component to racial gaps in intelligence […]. Few contradict it.

    Could you give a citation or two?

  63. #63 Pinko Punko
    October 19, 2007

    Watson does not count as an academic I think on the issues of race, and I don’t think it really is that good an idea to support different standards for scientists based on some “academic” privilege. Watson can’t take his words back, assuming he actually said them, but he certainly can be spanked by people I assume are somewhat his friends and do not wish to see the entire world see him as the asshole many in the know know him to be. I think there is more than principle involved with this CSH business, I think this was an intervention.

  64. #64 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?

  65. #65 James Clinton
    October 19, 2007

    Amit, here is a summary paper

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

  66. #66 usagi
    October 19, 2007

    I think you’re reading it the wrong way, PZ. If they’d terminated him outright, I’d be with you, but considering the fray up to this point, that seems to be a completely appropriate, reasoned, and rational response. The Board’s responsibility is to the health of the organization. When an administrator at this level acts outside the bounds of acceptable conduct, something Watson himself acknowledges he did in his apology, it is the responsibility of the Board to demonstrate they are taking the matter seriously.

    I see several possible outcomes of the review: 1) The Board finds Watson was indeed misquoted in this instance, accepts his apology, and possibly takes some sort of action against the paper (which if he was misquoted, they should). Status quo is restored until Watson steps down in a few months to reduce his workload. 2) The review finds Watson did act improperly, and he is terminated. I’d place very long odds on that happening unless there’s some audio tape that hasn’t come out yet. 3) The board review is inconclusive, but does note a pattern that they believe does not reflect well on the organization and after restoring Watson’s title encourages him to retire sooner rather than later.

    Bottom line, they’ve been looking for a reason to dump him for a while and this is far enough over the line even a Nobel prize can’t block the momentum of the board members who want him gone. Watson was a fool if he didn’t realize this (and I refuse to believe anyone who’s been in academia that long wouldn’t).

    Watson long ago turned into a Professor Troll (to borrow FemaleScienceProfessor‘s wonderful and terribly appropriate term). The options to deal with a PT always reduce to two: wait for him to die or force him out. There sometimes comes a point where the first option is no longer an acceptable solution to the problem. Watson just run full tilt across that line.

  67. #67 j
    October 19, 2007

    I admire PZ because he is able to change. I am 100% with him in this issue. I dont know what Dr Watson said and less I know if he is right or wrong or somewhere in the middle or so totally out-of-the-box that the Roman/Biblical command to respect old age is applicable here. I am sure that his appointment to the Board contains no paragraph binding him to silence or to be always in agreement with the Board’s unstated/tacit scientific/political/metaphysical/whatever views. Dr Watson is victim of unjustice and unfair treatment, and should he care to sue, he has a good chance to be reinstalled and paid compensation.
    PZ is great because here he adopts the opposite position than in the case of Harvard’s (former) President musings on a different unpopular issue, where PZ demanded his immediate sacking and dismissal in shame.

  68. #68 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

  69. #69 miko
    October 19, 2007

    I think CSHL can set whatever criteria they want for tolerating ridiculous, ill-informed opinions from their figureheads.

    Kary Mullis won the Nobel and he’s frickin HIV denier, I doubt anyone would want him representing a scientific organization whatever his other talents.

    Watson’s a zoologist turned molecular biologist, he is entitled to his racist opinions but has no claim to any stamp of expertise on this subject. Which is what makes this sad… he’s words receive undeserved weight.

  70. #70 miko
    October 19, 2007

    pardon the typos, argh.

  71. #71 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.

  72. #72 Michael X
    October 19, 2007

    One day Scott, I’ll also get such economy of language. I’m hoping it’ll come out as an affordable upgrade from apple.

  73. #73 Christian Burnham
    October 19, 2007

    Speaking as a layman- it seems to be difficult to find any good source on the internet for any of the views expressed in these threads.

    Can anyone point to a relatively unbiased summary of race and IQ?

    I got most of my information from the contested Wikipedia articles.

  74. #74 Michael X
    October 19, 2007

    Well Christian, as I stated I just read The Race Myth. Though I’m still looking up how the general scientific community looks upon the ideas presented there. I’m sure there are other popular books, just not stocked at the book store within walking distance from my apt.

  75. #75 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.

  76. #76 Lucas
    October 19, 2007

    I think that there’s no a priori reason to believe that ethnic groups have the same mental capabilities, except perhaps that intelligence was almost certainly a strongly selected trait in all societies. However, it has been shown that most genetic variability is at an individual level. I seem to recall that only something like 15% of genetic variability was attributable to ethnic group. That means that even if one group had lower mean capabilities than another, many people in the group would be smarter than most people from any other group. So you would still be ill-advised to base any presuppositions on race or ethnicity.

  77. #77 Michael X
    October 19, 2007

    Of course you were looking for internet sources.

    Though I have to say one thing: when reading off the internet one has to lean forward. When reading a book, one can lean back… Who ever browsed the internet in a hammock?

    I rest my case.

  78. #78 Dan
    October 19, 2007

    100% environmental factors is absurd, but so is treating environment as a nonfactor. I have yet to see any data on racial IQ disparity that attempts to draw conclusions about genotypes that manages to do so without ignoring obvious potential confabulating factors- in an extremely well-selected sample, the only remaining factor could theoretically be the one that can’t be fixed, specifically society and culture as a whole. Dismissing them as altogether trivial would be spectacularly bizarre, in my opinion, and this is in the event of a miraculously perfect sampling technique. Even transracial adoption, for instance, provides odd data because most kids aren’t up for adoption and most parents don’t adopt.

    Sometimes you can’t get rid of confabulating factors, and admitting it shouldn’t be a big deal. Going out to pretend you can when you can’t is bad science. While we’re being lazy and not citing our sources on our central claims- a tactic I could get used to, as I’m used to backing up at least my main points if they’re related to research- it’s been shown reasonably well that even mentioning race or gender on a form before a test will tend to tick scores a few points up or down towards their given stereotypes in comparison with controls of the same race/gender. Exacerbated a little, this accounts for a fair bit.

    I’m not saying there aren’t genetic differences in intelligence; for all I know there are. I’m saying our tools are pretty crude and incapable of meaningfully measuring the full causes of relatively subtle differences in intelligence. Until we start doing good controlled laboratory experiments or learning specifically how the brain works much better than we do now, it’ll probably stay that way.

    I’d like to reiterate that this debate is more than a decade old and ought to remain dead, by the way.

  79. #79 Pinko Punko
    October 19, 2007

    antihumanist,

    Yes, speech can be both “true” and racist and sexist. However, we might argue about how “true” something is, and once “true” reaches some arbitrary level of sketchiness, we can’t really deal with it, and therefore our declamation of said truth, when it impinges on the rights an status of a large group of people could very well be racist or sexist. Think outside the cobag.

  80. #80 Duane Tiemann
    October 19, 2007

    Caledonian seems pretty credible to me. This is a tough topic to look at in an unbiased fashion.

    The fact that blacks score about 1 standard deviation below whites isn’t controversial any longer. (Though the studies mentioned above say it may have decreased to .6 recently.) And, of course, Asians score higher. And Jews, I believe, score higher as well.

    What is (now) at issue is why.

    I don’t see what prevents a genetic component. I liked the comment about muscles. Exercise develops them, but …

    I suspect that Watson’s apology is insincere. He caved. Or apologized so unreservedly as sarcasm.

    I’m with the group in being uncomfortable that he gets such pressure.

  81. #81 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.

  82. #82 Sam
    October 19, 2007

    must include allowing the Watsons of this world to say things that are stupid and offensive – emphasis mine

    I’m actually in two minds about this. On the one hand – academic freedom is certainly of the good. On the other – what point does the stupid have to get to before you can safely assert that there’s nothing academic about it whatsoever? ID? Holocaust denialism? Does it count as academic merely because it comes out of a particular mouth? Like Egnors?

    Perhaps such academic freedom is both a privilege and a responsibility. You can earn it, but that’s not to say after that point it should be given you, gratis, forever, merely because we have a culture that recognises fame so strongly.

    I dunno though. It’s early, and I have yet to caffeinate.

  83. #83 miko
    October 19, 2007

    “I don’t see what prevents a genetic component.”

    Nothing. Argh! Discussions suck when half the people don’t get the point. As far as I know, the claim that whatever IQ measures has a genetic component is not controversial. What’s controversial is saying that race (which also has nebulous ties to genetics) has anything to do with it.

    There has been no properly controlled study providing evidence for this, and it is hard to imagine one being practical.

  84. #84 Matt Penfold
    October 19, 2007

    There must be little doubt that having a Nobel laureate as your chancellor must give your instituion some kudos, if only becuase people are likely to be willing to meet with said laureate.

    However the qualities that lead someone to win a Nobel are unlikely to be the qualities you would look for in an administator operating at a political level. The type of person who wins a Nobel is not going to be someone who does not speak their mind, or who suffers fools well. They will be drive, sometimes to the extent of saying “sod the consequences”.

    All of the above is leading up to my saying that CHSL appointed Watson and must now live with the consequences of that decision.

  85. #85 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).

  86. #86 Orac
    October 19, 2007

    Gotta disagree with PZ here.

    Watson has every right to say whatever he wants but CSHL isn’t obligated to tolerate him if he spews racist crap that brings the institution disrepute. Sure, sometimes there’s a fine line between challenging or unpopular speech and pseudoscientific racist twaddle, but Watson’s case is nowhere near that line.

  87. #87 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.

  88. #88 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.

  89. #89 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. 😛

  90. #90 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????

  91. #91 tristero
    October 19, 2007

    I clearly see PZ’s point. And I think his concerns are valid. But if it were up to me, I would have fired Watson the moment I read those comments in the paper.

    Not because they are “controversial.” But because they are racist and wrong, both scientifically and morally, and on a deep level. Watson is not someone advocating a wacky position for the purpose of being a gadfly. This is someone who asserts that some highly complex science irrefutably leads to simplistic and repulsive social conclusions because the science is objectively true. Africans score lower on iq tests, therefore, Watson claims, blacks are intellectualy incapable of doing a good job, as is in fact the case – according to Watson, of course.

    That is the fallacious reasoning of an extremely stupid man. It is precisely the kind of mistake that is meant by the moral pejorative “prejudiced.” And it is the same mistake racists who pretend they’re intellectuals always make. Such people don’t deserve to retain prestigious positions when they use their authority as scientists to bellow rancid bigotry.

    PZ’s counter-example is one I find unconvincing. A feminist in such a position is highly unlikely to retain her (or his) position if s/he was a geneticist but claimed, say, that Newtonian physics is objectively rape-centric because it privileges the collision of bodies. Not because that’s a “controversial” opinion, but because it’s idiotic and s/he’s speaking far beyond her expertise.

    Just as the (hypothetical) feminist geneticist is no physicist, Watson’s research and discovery of DNA in no way qualifies him with expert knowledge of the kind of genetic and anthropological research he claims support his racism (but don’t).

    In short, it’s not his controversial views that justify firing him. It’s his stupidity, both scientific and moral, with PZ’s very real concerns duly noted.

  92. #92 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.

  93. #93 Carlie
    October 19, 2007

    I also share concerns, but Cold Spring Harbor has reason to be especially sensitive about matters of racial profiling. They were at the center of the eugenics movement in the US, and now are heavily invested in documenting and explaining the errors in the science of the time. (see eugenicsarchive.org, put up by them) And I have to say that it’s good for people to see that making those kinds of grossly wrong statements have consequences. Not because opinions should be censored, but because he was speaking in his capacity as a scientist, trying to put all the weight of science behind himself, and he was wrong.

  94. #94 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.

  95. #95 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.

  96. #96 PZ Myers
    October 19, 2007

    I can understand where CSHL is coming from. I can even be convinced fairly easily that Watson has just made himself an untenable administrator.

    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.

  97. #97 tristero
    October 19, 2007

    Carlie,

    I think you’re exactly right. Even if Caledonian is as expert as he claims, he fails to understand that it is Watson’s use of his authority as a scientist to advocate racism that is far beyond the pale. As is Watson’s incredible stupidity in arguing, apparently seriously, that the science way supports his personal contempt for blacks or his personal opinions about an entire continent. Whatever the details are in the science, none of it requires Watson’s contempt or inevitably leads to Watson’s conclusions.

    Watson’s illogic is breathakingly dumb and prejudiced.

  98. #98 thalarctos
    October 19, 2007

    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?

    Yeah, but it sounds from Paco’s link to the Esquire apology from CSHL that they’ve been down this road before, and it didn’t work. So I guess it boils down to how many bites at the apple does he get before they decide that approach hasn’t worked, and they need to escalate somehow?

  99. #99 Clay
    October 19, 2007

    Professor Myers, if you truly believe Watson’s suspension is wrong, why don’t you initiate and circulate a petition protesting it among your peers?

  100. #100 tristero
    October 19, 2007

    PZ,

    Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world, but this one. I agree with you about the facts. Let them speak for themselves. The problem is that people like Watson make odious, utterly irrational inferences from them, abuse their authority as scientists by encouraging others to make the same mistakes they’ve made. Now what to do?

    One can correct his logic and step everyone through basic causality and reasoning. And man, do we need people to do that – it is incredible how poorly we, as a species, reason. However, if patiently explaining the nature of causality would always work, how do we account for Watson’s continuing bigoted remarks? Something else is going on that is extremely resistant to logic.

    And while we are trying to discover all this, Watson continues to remain in a position of power and continues to spout genuinely malicious nonsense. While I think I fully understand your point, I also think that Watson’s authority provides his remarks with a rhetorical weight they don’t deserve. Therefore, removing his authority, while permitting him still to say whatever he pleases to say, strikes me as absolutely sensible. Let Watson rant on a street corner. But with the authority of “official science” which an institution provides?

    No. Because there is no science in his conclusions and therefores, only prejudice.

  101. #101 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?

  102. #102 Steve LaBonne
    October 19, 2007

    This really is a declaration that their administrators will not have academic freedom.

    The reality is that ADMINISTRATORS- as opposed to teachers / researchers- never have, never will, and shouldn’t. They have no business being in the spotlight in ways that do discredit to their institutions- that’s quite simply an abdication of one of their more important responsibilities, which is to represent their institutions.

    (This is why people who accept deanships that don’t come with a tenured faculty position to fall back on are unwise, in my opinion. Administrators serve at the pleasure of their superiors and trustees, period. That has always been the case.)

  103. #103 Caledonian
    October 19, 2007

    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.

    Merciful Buddha on a pogo stick, you haven’t read much of the preceding threads.

  104. #104 Thoracantha
    October 19, 2007

    The problem occures if Dr. Watson is a racist and has authority over budgets, hiring, or lab space. I’ve worked for a racist company in the past. And while the descrimination wasn’t directed at me, it made for a horrible work experience. It was a job I couldn’t leave fast enough. Every decision made in that place was viewed through the prism of race.

    Dr. Watson created an environment hostile to a segment of its employees. How would you like it, if your boss publically said that you were less than human? What do you think your chances of promotion or a positive review would be? Instead of knowing that promotions, grants and lab space are given according to need and ability, there will be a shadow of racism hanging over every decision. This effects every level of the organization from scientists to support staff. It effectively drives a wedge between workers based on race.

    As director he is the public face of the institution. If the institution recieves federal funding, they must be an equal oppertunity employer. His comments could call into question that status. Funding can be yanked for that. Also having a racist even as a member could hurt future funding. Who would want to donate to an institution that appears to have a racist agenda. It’s not completely about wooing donors; it’s also about not chasing donors away with a bat.

    Secondly, he is opening up the institution to a host of law suits. Anybody who is of non-Caucasian decent and who is denied a promotion or job could sue for decrimination. It doesn’t matter if the decision was the correct one or not. Dr. Watson’s comments about race open the door.

    Lastly and most importantly, rasicm is bad science. Just as creationism is bad science. The head of a major science institution can not spout bad science and assume to keep his job. What if Watson was telling stories of the flood, or of Ham’s curse?

    Everybody has the right to be racist and sexist. Just as the institution has the right to control it’s image. Also the institution has the responsiblity to insure a non-hostile work environment. Nobel or nor, Cold Spring Habor should have canned his ass.

  105. #105 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.

  106. #106 cgarm
    October 19, 2007

    What to take home from this affair is primarily that “scientific consensus” on issues relating to race can be taken no more seriously than “scientific consensus” on economics in the late Eastern Bloc.

    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”).

  107. #107 Scholar
    October 19, 2007

    “feculent gut cavity”
    “reservoir of ignorance”
    “reeking opinions”

    yup, that Cal!

  108. #108 Thoracantha
    October 19, 2007

    Dr. Watson said “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”

    This isn’t a debate over free speech or academic freedom. He is the administor. He made a comment specifically addressing race and his employees. If a CEO made this comment, he would have been let go also. This is a no brainer. He should be fired.

  109. #109 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.

  110. #110 Chris
    October 19, 2007

    I’m an amused spectator at this point, without the time to really jump in to this, but a trend seems to be emerging. Any time demands for Caledonian’s sources get too vociferous he just disappears for a while, waits for the conversation to move on, and then chimes in on some other topic without responding to his previous interlocutors. Are you guys really going to let him get away with it?

  111. #111 Ashutosh
    October 19, 2007

    Histrogeek: Actually everyone from the Bush administration has pulled off that trick, except that their statements have been vile for the rest of us.

  112. #112 Steve_C
    October 19, 2007

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

  113. #113 ngong
    October 19, 2007

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

  114. #114 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.”

  115. #115 Luna_the_cat
    October 19, 2007

    Speaking from an HR perspective, horacantha is bang on. Here is a man who has administrative, mentoring and possibly (I don’t know) hiring responsibilities, who has just made a blanket statement that “blacks” are less intelligent than “whites”.

    How is suspending his admin duties pending investigation NOT an appropriate response?

  116. #116 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.

  117. #117 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.

  118. #118 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.

  119. #119 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.

  120. #120 Arnosium Upinarum
    October 19, 2007

    There are no scientific OR ethical grounds for defending Watson’s statements. None whatsoever.

    However, what actually motivated him to make those statements may be another question entirely.

    I don’t recall offhand where I read it (only in the headline and summary, not the whole release itself) – I believe within the last several months – some science news release had featured some research on why there appears to be a heightened tendency amongst elderly people(perhaps succumbing to dementia?) to become increasingly crotchety, bigoted, intolerant or otherwise prone to express prejudicial behavior and views.

    I have noticed this myself, and have quite a few friends who work with geriatric patients or in homes for the elderly who have reported this phenomenon.

    I think we might all take a break and reconsider what the actual culprit might be before castigate what all must agree was once a brilliant scientist. This may, after all, be attributed to a much wider tragedy afflicting human beings everywhere than the disgrace of a single individual.

  121. #121 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.

  122. #122 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.

  123. #123 Hap
    October 19, 2007

    Kyle at the Chem Blog brought up a point which I thought was valid – whenever one group (or another) has succeeded in “proving” another group inferior, the nearest consequence has usually been the annihilation of the inferior group. It’s hard to say that there are things that people shouldn’t talk about, but if we haven’t really shown any evidence of being able to deal well with anyone else, there would seem to be little evidence that we would spare our “inferiors”, and that proving people so might be counterproductive and perhaps even a distraction from dealing with the obvious inequities in a variety of variables. There would also be the social context of these claims – their use in either annihilating or segregating said groups while ignoring the actions that might have helped to place them in such a position. (It has comprehensive similarities to the Confederate flag controversies – the people advocating its presence had to ignore its historical use for advocating segregation, a use in which some of them might have played a role).

    If “being PC” means “not trying to initiate genocide” (or not trying to root one on), then being PC would seem to be the relatively sane option.

  124. #124 synapse
    October 19, 2007

    My professor says that he used to know Watson long ago and that he must have gone soft in the head. The Watson he knew was someone who ably charmed donors and recruited brilliant young scientists to CSHL. He always had strong opinions, and everyone who knew him well knew that, but he kept them private. This interview, in addition to another recent incident, doesn’t sound like the man my professor used to know.

  125. #125 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.

  126. #126 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.

  127. #127 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.

  128. #128 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.

  129. #129 Giordano Bruno
    October 19, 2007

    Question is what kind of” African” was Watson on when he spoke? Moroccan??

  130. #130 Amit Joshi
    October 19, 2007

    James Clinton at #65 referred me to http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/1076-8971.11.2.235 for support of his claim that there’s scientific evidence for lower intelligence among blacks. Unfortunately, I’m not an APA member, so I can’t access it. Can someone else look that paper over and comment?

  131. #131 Clay
    October 19, 2007

    Is there any scientific research out there that puports all races to be of equal intelligence, on average?

    Is this impossible an impossible task for science to determine?

  132. #132 Luna_the_cat
    October 19, 2007

    For Duane Tiemann @ #80, and for the various other people wanting a summary of research, this is from 1996 and is thus 11 years old, but for all of that is an excellent summary, and I recommend it.

    Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns,
    Report of a Task Force established by the Board of Scientific Affairs of the American Psychological Association
    Released August 7, 1995
    A slighted edited version was published in the American Psychologist, Feb 1996. Official Journal of the APA

  133. #133 mythago
    October 19, 2007

    You have to be able to tolerate the tenure of assholes in order to have the possibility of heroes.

    What nonsense. The price of scientific inquiry is not smiling and nodding when bigoted assholes spout unscientific claptrap. Refusing to tolerate open racism does not automagically lead to the suppression of all scientific dissent or unpopular research results.

    Why not just admit it, PZ: it’s really no skin off your back and you like the guy, so why doesn’t everyone STFU?

  134. #134 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.

  135. #135 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.

  136. #136 Jason
    October 19, 2007

    Luna cat,

    From the “Summary and Conclusions” section of the APA study you cite:

    The differential between the mean intelligence test scores of Blacks and Whites (about one standard deviation, although it may be diminishing) does not result from any obvious biases in test construction and administration, nor does it simply reflect differences in socio-economic status. Explanations based on factors of caste and culture may be appropriate, but so far have little direct empirical support. There is certainly no such support for a genetic interpretation. At present, no one knows what causes this differential.

    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.

  137. #137 Russell Blackford
    October 19, 2007

    I’m actually starting to think that this was a reasonable response by CSHL. With my old labour relations lawyer hat on, I probably would have advised it to do the same thing while sorting it all out. I assume the suspension of certain duties does not mean he has been taken off the payroll (not that he’d be starving, but there’s a principle here of not doing something like that lightly). I’m not sure just what Watson’s admin duties are, or what “Chancellor” means in America, but he’s obviously not an ordinary academic but some kind of senior manager, more like a company executive. So this is a bit of a grey area. I’ll swallow back my outrage, now I’ve slept on it, and see what happens next.

    The institution may have brought the problem on itself if there’s some ambiguity about Watson’s role. They’d better be clear with his successor.

  138. #138 Scott Hatfield, OM
    October 19, 2007

    Re: #102

    Couldn’t agree more.

  139. #139 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.

  140. #140 PZ Myers
    October 19, 2007

    Yeah, I’m feeling a bit persuaded by people’s arguments here, too. Watson’s role as a respected administrator has been flushed down the tubes by his own actions. Send him back to the lab, let him say these outrageous things all he wants as his own man, not as the head of CSHL.

  141. #141 rich (richmanwisco)
    October 19, 2007

    Full credit to you, PZ.

  142. #142 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.

  143. #143 j
    October 20, 2007

    What did Dr Watson say? “…we should base our view of the world on the state of our knowledge, on fact, and not on what we would like it to be. This is why genetics is so important. For it will lead us to answers to many of the big and difficult questions that have troubled people for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

    But those answers may not be easy, for, as I know all too well, genetics can be cruel. My own son may be one of its victims. Warm and perceptive at the age of 37, Rufus cannot lead an independent life because of schizophrenia, lacking the ability to engage in day-to-day activities. For all too long, my wife Ruth and I hoped that what Rufus needed was an appropriate challenge on which to focus. But as he passed into adolescence, I feared the origin of his diminished life lay in his genes. It was this realisation that led me to help to bring the human genome project into existence.

    In doing so, I knew that many new moral dilemmas would arise as a consequence and would early on establish the ethical, legal and societal components of the genome project. Since 1978, when a pail of water was dumped over my Harvard friend E O Wilson for saying that genes influence human behaviour, the assault against human behavioural genetics by wishful thinking has remained vigorous.

    But irrationality must soon recede.”

    I for one agree. Shame to those hearing something dirty in his words.

  144. #144 Tulse
    October 21, 2007

    Mencius, Rushton is a crank who has spoken at many white supremacists conferences, and is the current president of the Pioneer Fund, a eugenics research granting organization founded by an American Hitler supporter. Rushton is no disinterested academic simply following the data where it leads him — he is a white power sympathizer and eugenics proponent. His work is laughed at by respected psychologists.

  145. #145 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.

  146. #146 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.

  147. #147 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.

  148. #148 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.

  149. #149 Gummo Trotsky
    October 22, 2007

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

    If, Mencius, you want to inject a lot of confusion into the discussion by propagating your own misunderstandings of the basics of statistics.

    It doesn’t matter what historical era you’re living in, what your social circumstances are, or what the current conventional wisdom on a particular issue happens to be, the null hypothesis, in any situation where statistical analysis is applied to experimental results or other observations is always one and the same: that whatever effect you think you might have found is consistent with random variation in the population.

    The onus of proof is on the experimenter to show that, contrary to this assumption, the observed results are outside the possible range we would predict on the basis of random variation alone. Regardless of whether it’s 1907 or 2007, the assertion that there are measurable differences in intelligence between whites and other races is not a null hypothesis.

  150. #150 Caledonian
    October 22, 2007

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

    Rimmer was the secret hero of Red Dwarf.

    Enough said.

  151. #151 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.

  152. #152 Caledonian
    October 24, 2007

    Really? I’d say it’s an understatement.

  153. #153 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?

  154. #154 Colugo
    October 24, 2007

    “Thought police”? C’mon. Given Cold Spring Harbor’s history, I can see why they might be especially sensitive (as an earlier commenter pointed out). The head of CSHL’s eugenics records office founded the Pioneer Fund. People have a right to say what they want. But institutions also have the right to disaffiliate themselves from individuals. For example, the Pioneer Fund has every right to remove from its board of directors a member who changed his or her mind about psychometry, behavioral genetics, and racial differences and adopted a Gouldian view. (Just a hypothetical.)

  155. #155 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.

  156. #156 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.

  157. #157 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.

  158. #158 Jason
    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.

  159. #159 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.

  160. #160 Ichthyic
    October 24, 2007

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

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

  161. #161 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.

  162. #162 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.

  163. #163 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?

  164. #164 Caledonian
    October 24, 2007

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

  165. #165 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.

  166. #166 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.

  167. #167 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.

  168. #168 NancyP
    October 27, 2007

    Yoo-Hoo!

    That’s Watson’s MAIN JOB – FUNDRAISING. He is not an active scientist, and leaves the administration to others. Watson is the equivalent of an university president at CSHL.

    CSHL faculty, admin. have known of his comments for years (and cringed), but put up with them as long as they didn’t make worldwide lay-press news. After all, he has been very very good as a fundraiser, the quality of work, the number of new programs, and the quality of CHSL faculty have been excellent, and the facilities are finally more or less up to snuff.

    I suspect that he may be seen by CSHL board as too toxic for fundraising. I think the board is wrong – North Shore LI and the Hamptons is snow-white and pretty racist, and that’s the major target for fundraising. However, a significant portion of fundraising is from drug and biotech companies, not to mention federal institutional support (non R01/P01), who have something to lose from being perceived as being fine with racism.

  169. #169 thalarctos
    October 27, 2007

    If I believe those guys can say what they like without the threat of being fired, I can take their statements at face value.

    You’re being insufficiently skeptical if you think a lack of consequences for lying guarantees that everyone will always tell the truth.

    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.

    You learn that either they are lying to go along, or their true opinion accords with the opinion of the institution (mistakenly or correctly). Without further information, you can’t really know which of those cases it is.

    What you can know is, if they step outside the institution’s guidelines and get punished for it, that they were willing to stand up for what they believe, right or wrong.

    Neither way gets you off the hook for doing critical evaluation of what they say, though, which sounds like what you want. The institution is not responsible for doing that work for you. But if you just want to believe something uncritically without examining it (=take something at face value), go right ahead; nothing’s stopping you from doing that already.

  170. #170 NancyP
    October 27, 2007

    Oh, and the CSHL will survive quite nicely for quite a while – it is large enough and good enough to get by without a “big-name” administrator.

    One thing I didn’t think of – another player is SUNY-Stony Brook, which is the academic entity conveying Ph.D.s for pre-doc students working at CSHL. SUNY may well have objected.

    95% of the comments made on the thread show little knowledge about the institution and its complex ties and history, and little about basic biomedical research facilities and univs. Of course, that’s because Caledonian and others highjacked the thread.

  171. #171 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.

  172. #172 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.

  173. #173 thalarctos
    October 27, 2007

    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.

    Sorry, I misunderstood what you meant by taking at face value.

    I agree with your later post that it’s hard to balance those concerns in fairness to the people who have to work under Watson. In an ideal world, there’d never be any consequences to unlimited free speech; in this situation, though, the institution has to choose between that ideal and its responsibilities to employees and students.

    I do feel sorry for the old guy; the world has changed out from under him, and he seems to have realized it only the hard way. That’s got to be rough; he’s done this before, and it’s never bitten him this hard. He seems really shaken, and that’s too bad. But as Nancy P observed earlier about SUNY, I know that as a teacher, I’d be much more reluctant to send students I was mentoring out there, unless it was clear that CSHL was taking pains to distance itself from Watson’s remarks. So there have to be some kind of consequences to reckless speech, which (obviously, of course) means a limit on the ideal of free speech without consequences.

  174. #174 Caledonian
    October 27, 2007

    What consequences would you recommend for this individual who agrees with Watson, Raven T?

  175. #175 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.

  176. #176 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.

  177. #177 Caledonian
    October 27, 2007

    Nigeria my dear country is a prime example of the inferiority of the black race when compared to other races. Let somebody please tell me whether it is a manifestation of intelligence if a people cannot organise a free, fair and credible election to choose who will lead them. Is it intelligence that we cannot provide simple pipe-borne water for the people? Our public school system has virtually collapsed. Is that a sign of intelligence? Our roads are impassable. In spite of the numerous sources that nature has made available to us to tap for energy to run our industries and homes, we have no steady supply of electricity. Yet electricity is the bedrock of industrialisation. When you agree with the school of Watson, some say you are incorrect because all these failures are a result of poor leadership. Why must it be us blacks who must always suffer poor leadership? Is that not a manifestation of unintelligence?

    Watson was speculating that differences in gene distribution might explain part of the observed differences. The differences themselves are a fact – not about “black people”, when there is no such category, but about an entire region.

    There are a whole bunch of biological handicaps people that region endure, including widespread malnutrition, disease, and parasites of all descriptions.

    In time, we will likely discover others.

  178. #178 Colugo
    October 27, 2007

    He agreed with Watson on outcomes, but not on the causes.

    Caledonian: “There are a whole bunch of biological handicaps people that region endure … In time, we will likely discover others.”

    I understand – but do not agree with – your position. But why not be a little less cryptic, and more direct and explicit, about your views?

  179. #179 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.

  180. #180 Jocular Vayne
    October 27, 2007

    “I disagree with Watson passionately, and he is completely wrong in his opinions about Africa and women …”

    Completely wrong. Completely. Wrong. Ab-so-lutely completely wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. He is he is he is he is.

    There. I’ve made it so.

    Boy, are some people going to be looking back in shame in a few years’ time. Lies, obfuscation and censorship can’t work for ever, and particularly not in science.

  181. #181 RickD
    October 28, 2007

    Would people please stop confusing genetic traits with cultural traits? Stop viewing historical fate as genetically determined?

    Caledonian: I’ve read through several of your comments. People ask you for references and you blow them off. You’re not presenting a terribly serious attitude towards debate. Indeed, you are reminding me of Ignatius Reilly, the main character in A Confederacy of Dunces. You have the ability to articulate fully formed opinions without regard to context or support.

    PZ: Watson has been an ass for a long time. When I was an undergrad 20 years ago, people knew Watson was a misogynistic ass. I suspect his fate has been a long time coming. His comments about Africa are only the latest in a long sequence of public embarrassments. If he hadn’t founded his career on the act of stealing from Rosalind Franklin during a time when this was considered acceptable, I might have more pity for him.

    It troubles me that people like Larry Summers and James Watson feel completely empowered to wander into a complicated field like human intelligence, utter some idiotic sexist/racist tripe and then, when the system smacks them back for the idiots they are, other people rally to their side for being the victims of “political correctness”. Is it considered to be one of the virtues of our society is that people should be allowed to get away with racism or sexism, as long as it is at tolerably moderate levels?

  182. #182 Desider
    October 28, 2007

    I was somewhat surprised to see the threat of suspending Caledonian for his views, when his tone is rather restrained here by any Internet standards. Perhaps he/she’s been worse in other threads? In any case, it would be pretty boring discussion here if everyone were just sitting around holding hands and doing Kumbaya.

    Caledonian, I would have been interested in a “top 5” or however may references that express the ideas you’d like to express. First time here, and I’m sure if go Googling I won’t find the specific ones you agree with.

    Everyone, just a little reality time. Shockley gave us the transistor, and he’s definitely a racist – should we stop using the transistor? Martin Luther King was a womanizer and quite unfaithful – should he have stepped down as leader of the black movement? Gandhi mistreated his son and disowned him – is that enough to remove him from his leadership position? Kinsey slept with at least one of his students – perhaps he should have resigned as head of his foundation? And then there’s the great one, Mother Theresa – who made lots of money while leaving kids in unsanitary hospitals as poster children of unnecessary poverty, while speaking against birth control and abortion isn’t it time to stop speaking nicely about her (even though deceased, her pernicious reputation lives on).

    How far should we go in policing opinion, and isn’t that severely pre-selecting our cultural/scientific possibilities and success rations based on one not particularly relevant criteria?

  183. #183 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.

  184. #184 Stevie_C
    October 29, 2007

    Albatros…

    such a wanka.

  185. #185 100% BLACK
    October 30, 2007

    Africa doesn’t need the social programs of the West that Watson was referring to. It is unfortunate he equated their failure with a “proven” inferior intelligence on the part of the Africans. Africans have nothing to prove. But one day, I hope they will mobilize and kick out all scientific research activities of the West from the continent, if this is how they are perceived. These comments were not taken very kindly by African scientists and scholars. Watch this space for a backlash. It may not happen overnight…but it will happen, true to the adage, “there is no hurry in Africa”.

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