As a non-scientist, I’d like to point out an unpredictable side-effect of Watson’s remarks that might make scientists cringe. Yesterday a student in my women’s studies class used Watson’s comments on race and differential intelligence (along with an NPR interview with Phil Rushton on the same theme) to illustrate scientific findings on that subject. Her larger point was to suggest that the singular enterprise, “science,” is flawed because it has no way of recognizing and correcting for biases such as racism. The sad truth is that for many non-scientists (and most of us are non-scientists), Watson’s–and Rushton’s–statements about race and intelligence have the imprimatur of science. How are we to know the difference? Of course, this confusion works to the advantage of dissenters on global warming/climate change and the legitimacy of evolution as well as to the advantage of racists. It seems to me that it must be the responsibility of scientists (and friends of science) to carefully distinguish legitimate forms of scientific practice from the illegitimate, if only because the children (and adults) are listening.
So then, these are the two sad legacies of Watson’s pseudo-scientific hate speech: (1) a blurring of the line between science and pseudo-science, and (2) increased perception that the entire scientific enterprise is flawed at the core. This negatively affects non-scientists at a time when scientists critically need to rally the public to more support for science and scientific thinking.