Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson has some pretty odd ideas.

A sold out lecture in London has been cancelled due to geneticist James Watson's mind altering claims. I notice the crusty old chap did an interview in Focus magazine recently where he tried to 'temper' his views somewhat. But you can't really temper calling a whole race sub intelligent now can you?

Observe the beginning of the furore from the Independent. (UK)

"One of the world's most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that "equal powers of reason" were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson's remarks " in full". Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was "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 said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

The furore echoes the controversy created in the 1990s by The Bell Curve, a book co-authored by the American political scientist Charles Murray, which suggested differences in IQ were genetic and discussed the implications of a racial divide in intelligence. The work was heavily criticised across the world, in particular by leading scientists who described it as a work of " scientific racism".

Dr Watson arrives in Britain today for a speaking tour to publicise his latest book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. Among his first engagements is a speech to an audience at the Science Museum organised by the Dana Centre, which held a discussion last night on the history of scientific racism.

Critics of Dr Watson said there should be a robust response to his views across the spheres of politics and science. Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It is sad to see a scientist of such achievement making such baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comments. I am sure the scientific community will roundly reject what appear to be Dr Watson's personal prejudices.

"These comments serve as a reminder of the attitudes which can still exists at the highest professional levels."

The American scientist earned a place in the history of great scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century when he worked at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s and 1960s and formed part of the team which discovered the structure of DNA. He shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine with his British colleague Francis Crick and New Zealand-born Maurice Wilkins.

But despite serving for 50 years as a director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, considered a world leader in research into cancer and genetics, Dr Watson has frequently courted controversy with some of his views on politics, sexuality and race. The respected journal Science wrote in 1990: "To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script."

In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. He later insisted he was talking about a "hypothetical" choice which could never be applied. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that " stupidity" could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great."

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said yesterday that Dr Watson could not be contacted to comment on his remarks.

Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University and a founder member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, said: " This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically."

Anti-racism campaigners called for Dr Watson's remarks to be looked at in the context of racial hatred laws. A spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black human rights group, said: "It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint."

Hat tip Parynugla/



Anonymous Nonny said...

Miss Cat you know what, mon petit amie Squnichi always goes on about this, I read a lottt of Watson’s stuff and yes he is quite the nutter but like him Squinchi is off the opinion that some races are far less intelligent than others. With specific reference to Africans her argument is and I roughly quote, “Name one thing Africans have invented that benefit mankind?” or “Given that Scientist believe Africans where the first race, are physically stronger and the African content has the most comprehensive range of natural resource, why is the vast majority of still deemed developing?”, it is usually around about here I get stuck!!

11:42 a.m.  
Blogger Medbh said...

Oh jeebus.
Some people are more equal than others? Ugh.
It's too early for racism. Haven't even had my tea yet.

12:17 p.m.  
Anonymous bendersbetterbrother said...

His theory makes perfect sense if you swap Larne for black. I think he's (nearly) on to something.

1:06 p.m.  
Blogger daisy mae said...

stupid watson. argh! using someone else's work in order to solve the structure of DNA... while watson and crick were busy building theoretical models out of cardboard cutouts, toothpicks, and glue.... rosalind franklin was busy using x-ray crystallography and actually stopping by their lab and correcting their models for them.

quite frankly, i can't stand watson or crick.

1:31 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

"Name one thing Africans have invented that benefit mankind?” or “Given that Scientist believe Africans where the first race, are physically stronger and the African content has the most comprehensive range of natural resource, why is the vast majority of still deemed developing?”,

Not too long ago in this country we died in our droves from a famine, a lot of us were barely ecking out a life, we had high rates if infant mortality, no real education and very little skills other than farming and the lucky few who made it abroad.
Now we're a rich nation, cultural, computer compliant and growing in every quarter every year.
We've gone from being 'boggers' to being European, if that isn't a glib stretch. In the same time the British Empire has shrunk and the power and wealth of other countries and ebbed and waned and grown and flourished.
Africa as a vast continent- when it is not having it's natural resources stripped clean by developed nations- still at the raw stage of development and in that state I'm sure there's many an intelligent person who would relish the chance to have a education, to prove themselves in the field, but who do not have the opportunity. I'm not sure where Watson's views come from. Can a man or woman who spends her time trying to survive and feed his or her family be expected to care deeply about anything other than making it through the next day? Is a black man studying in college not as smart as his white counterpart? Is a black doctor not as clever as a white doctor?
When the playing field is level in terms of health and education is there still as difference in intelligence?
What is Watson basing his view on? Africans who are still in Africa? Or African American, or African European? What? I'd like to know, because to read such a enormous sweeping statement like blacks just aren't as smart as whites is possibly the most dumbstruck I've been this week.

2:21 p.m.  
Blogger Medbh said...

Take a bow, FMC.
Well stated.
In the 19th century there were plenty of "scientists" who were running around saying that the Irish were closer to the ape on the evolutionary scale than the Btits. I hate to see the Irish being racist since they've had to suffer from so much of it historically.

2:36 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

That is not my view but it does make me think about it a great deal. Not 100% sure about this but his views are generally formed on genetic make-up, DNA. You mentioned there about Europeans depleting Africans natural resources and the lack of access to education, you see what some would argue (like Squinchi and Watson) if Africans where here first why didn’t they take the reign of power first? What was it that stopped them? Why didn’t they invent guns, electricity, the wheel etc first? In essence they had a head start against the rest of the world why did they fall behind? Some would believe it is down to an inferior level of intelligence. Do you know what I am talking about? This is not my opinion but I understand the logic behind such views, although I don’t agree it is an interesting train of thought. There may well be a perfectly logical reason for this but what is it??

2:47 p.m.  
Anonymous sheepworrier said...

Nonny - not to sound too hippyish about it, but you could assume that native africans had found the balance they required between their needs and nature, thus they didnt have the neccessity to 'develop'.

Which makes more sense - producing vast amounts of stuff that we dont need, or living in equilibrium?

Fuggit, I do sound like a hippy.

3:10 p.m.  
Blogger Dr. James McInerney said...

Deep breath here.

OK, I have met Watson a few times and indeed he is the crazy guy of science, known to say a whole lot of things.

First of all the whole Watson and Crick stole Rosalind Franklin's X-ray data is not entirely true. Harding and Wilkins published in the same issue of the journal Nature as Watson and Crick and it probably was Watson and Crick's approach that finally produced the sensible model. So personally, I don't believe they stole anything, it is simply the way science proceeds.

The race/intelligence controversy has been stirred up, not by Watson but by an Asian researcher and Watson is probably making some inference from it.

Race is a social definition and not a scientific one. There is no such thing as human races in science. The genetic difference between any two people is about 0.01%, although there is substructure. There are six major groups of humans, but still the notion of a race has no solid scientific definition.

Technological leaps facilitate other technological leaps. The tiny island to the east of Ireland had an empire that spanned the globe because they developed ship building technology slightly faster than other small islands did it. Perhaps there was pressure to do so, perhaps there were a few individuals that pushed it. From this technological leap, they made loads of money trading and so on. they had a better navy, could fight wars on the other side of the world, yada, yada, yada. In africa, perhaps it was not seed as interesting. You would need to speak with a geographer and an economist for that one.

The point being, dumber people with better technology can do better than clever people with sticks and stones. Not calling anybody dumb or trying to be rude.

Aaargh, I'm leaving.

3:12 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

Ok yeah that could be it which i suppose would on some levels deem them more intelligent!?! Although history and evolution will dictate that all living creature particularly humans will strive to better themselves therefore the strongest will progress or do better, Again this would validate Watsons/Squinchi’s point. I would really love to know what prevented their development as I have absolutely no idea.

3:19 p.m.  
Anonymous sheepworrier said...

erm yup, what the good doctor said...

3:21 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

Yeah it is definitly an interesting explanation do't think an ecomonist would be much help but a geographer, I know just the man, I'll mail him.

3:35 p.m.  
Blogger Dr Maroon said...

Economics was the first science to prove the lack of proof to any of Watson's views. They are not based on fact. The man is a prick.

4:42 p.m.  
Anonymous Shebah said...

I guess it's possible that in parts of the world where nutrition is very poor and pregnant women have insufficient vitamins they could have a higher proportion of less mentally well developed infants - and also in areas where incest is common (the old days in rural Ireland and the English Royal family!) - but surely nobody could believe such a theory when there is a level playing field in both diet and education. Maybe it warrants a proper scientific study.I wonder where he stands in Condo Rice? ...and hasn't Ireland always produced the best writers, poets etc. the land of saints and scholars?

4:45 p.m.  
Blogger Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

The argument doesn't make any sense. If current test scores indicate anything it's that the Japanese and Chinese are smarter than we are, but Caucasians were first to invent the steam engine, foster the industrial revolution etc. Nothing is proven by who is first to a thing other than that history is capricious.

History and the fate of nations is down to bald luck as much as it's down to IQ. England only beat the Armada and became King of the seas because there was a storm.

In addition, European society was very hierarchical allowing the lucky few the luxury of unstructured days and time to sit about contemplating their navels or inventing and discovering. In Africa and places less climatologically friendly to growing large crops (hence allowing other people to build and gather in cities and foster new ideas and cultures like in Italy at the Renaissance) an upper class living in cities adn mixing it up with foreigners with new ideas etc. just didn't happen. The difference between the rates of development is sociological and historical rather than genetically based.

Barack Obama and George Bush: Who's the smartest? Who's President? People get on in life just as much through luck, and accidents of birth and class as they do on the backs of their own intelligence.

5:13 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

Maroon I’m not saying Watson theory is right and he may well be a prick, what we are looking for is somebody or literature to explain why the rest of the world developed and Africa didn’t? Out of curiosity I want to know.

5:14 p.m.  
Blogger John Mc said...


There has been plenty of study as to why Europeans ascended to the top of the pile. I suggest, a read of “Guns Germs and Steal” by Jared Diamond, (His follow on book, “Collapse” would be worthwhile also). Also try “1491” by Charles Mann. A very, very, quick synopsis is that most societies either invent new technology, (rare) or gain access to technologies from other societies, (most likely). Europe was uniquely positioned geographically to gain access to the technologies that led them to have guns, germs and steel when they “discovered the New World. This was because over the years due to proximity to the Fertile Crescent, and Asia, they had relatively easy access to certain domesticated crops, animals, (there was no equivalent to the horse, sheep or cow in the America's, Australasia or Africa, and geography prevented access to these), and technologies. These technologies flowed easily from East to West but not so from North to South, (Sahara desert, oceans etc). As a result they moved quicker from hunter gatherers, to farmers, (greater food production), to towns, (enabling a ruling educated caste who did not need to farm), to city states. When Europeans arrived in Africa and South America, they were immune to diseases like smallpox due to centuries of proximity to domesticated animals, but caused the spread of this through the local populations. It is now thought that up to 90% of Americans may have died due to disease, before the Spaniards even encountered them, and the Spaniards estimate of populations were extremely low because by the time they began to count – most people were dead! Charles Mann’s book 1491, shows that the modern archeological research is showing that most populous and advanced cities in the world at the time were in Mesoamerica. Similar research is only beginning in Africa.

The good doctor above is correct, regardless of skin color, there is almost no genetic difference between most people. For example the people fighting each other in Israel and Palestine are genetically almost identical. Any suggestion that Africans are stronger or fitter is ridiculous. While this may be true for sub groups, and more often cultures, (runners in Kenya lead an almost monastic existence), there is no correlation between Pygmies and Zulu’s etc. It is always foolish to generalize about race, and easily debunked.

6:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Nonny said...

thank you very much John i'm gonna order them now. Cheers!

11:59 p.m.  
Blogger Manuel said...

Why do the dumbest people always ramble on about intelligence? Cunt, end of....

12:54 a.m.  
Blogger Dr. James McInerney said...

Jimmy got his marching orders today:
clicky linky herey

2:05 p.m.  
Blogger Dr. James McInerney said...

It is very easy to describe Watson as a lunatic, but I also feel that there is usually some kind of reasoning behind his comments, just that he doesn't say it properly.

One of my students spent a summer at Cold Spring Harbor and one night went for dinner, along with the other interns with James Watson. He asked her where she was from, she replied "Ireland". He said (paraphrasing) that "in the old days we used to think that Irish people were stupid".

That's all he said. Nothing more.

Now I don't think he was being racist, (simply because I think he loves coming to Ireland and comes here quite often), but he didn't clarify his comment in any way. You could take real offense to that comment, but I suspect, he wasn't meaning to be offensive.

BTW: I am not writing this to defend racism, apologise for racism, or any of that. Just that it doesn't surprise me that he has put his foot in it, once again.


2:19 p.m.  
Anonymous Shebah said...

Or maybe it's all a deliberate marketing ploy - now everybody has heard of him, he'll sell more books, without the tedium of having to spend the time on the lecture tour - a win win result for him.

3:25 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

I think you're right Docky2, he's just an old school bumbler. I'm reading some of his withdrawals and it's like he has no clue why anyone should be irked by what he says.
I don't think, Shebah, he's like that ardvaark Ann Coulter, trying to drum up interest by being offensive, I think he's genuinely clueless.

3:45 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Racism originally was the “study of Race”. Why is it that we can not make any deductions based on typical genetic groups of people? This man is a scientist and he is being burned by the masses for even addressing this “taboo” subject. One would think that in today’s world we could scientifically analyze and speak on any subject without this sort of emotional response.

This is proof that the guardians of free thought do not include the logical discussion of genetics and race. We quite literally have entered an age resembling the dark ages when it comes to studies of races. You can literally learn more from an encyclopedia from 1955 than you can from the rubbish and propaganda you see in books today.

9:53 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is just amazing. Dr. Watson is a very kind, humble and decent human being. My girlfriend works for the lab, and I can assure you that he is no racist. What he is is a victim of a very overblown smear campaign by the PC Gestapo. They wish to make him seem like a complete racist dingbat, and nothing, and I mean NOTHING, could be further from the truth. However, the man waiting in the wings to be the "name of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory" is none other than the backstabbing suckpot Dr. Bruce Stillman, the very man Watson groomed into his current position as President of the CSHL. Watson is only an advisory scientist in the first place, but it's his name that brings in the bacon. Stillman has had it out for Watson for ages, and I wouldn't be a bit suprised if it was Stillman that alerted the press to an ambiguous statement he made and made sure they blew it all out of proportion.

4:42 a.m.  
Blogger Dr. James McInerney said...

Anonymous1: As far as I know, there are lots of good studies of race and intelligence and scientists definitely wouldn't consider this kind of thing taboo. Problem is, I haven't seen any that are conclusive.

Probably the biggie was a book called "The Bell Curve", but as far as I know it was somewhat discredited (it said that black americans were less intelligent than white and this was caused by genetics). I haven't read it, so I am only going on what I hear, so I am happy to be corrected, if I am wrong.

You are right, though, Anon1. It should be possible to discuss race and intelligence in the light of genetics, however, the answer is likely to warrant enough caveats that it is rendered meaningless. e.g. Race doesn't have a strong definition and intelligence is not inherited in the same way as Cystic fibrosis or blue eyes.

2:51 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would suggest another book that I thought covered the subject very well. It is called "the end of racism" by Dsouza. It is a very good read and I felt is was virtually ignored when it was published.

I see this entire thing as just one more offense against the logical world.

I think we should all be aware that the very things we were taught in sociology class that was claimed to hurt blacks is being practiced today (TV, movies, literature) to the detriment of white people.

10:33 p.m.  
Anonymous Odetta said...

Well said.

11:47 a.m.  
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