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What do you make of Dr. Watson's comments?

  1. Oct 19, 2007 #1
    As a father of DNA, and a Nobel prices recipient, he might have pushed the button. Do you think he is racist? Or has he been caught up in the vast game of social norms?


    His reply,

    This is interesting, one always assumes without question that everyone is equal. Is this scientific?
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  3. Oct 19, 2007 #2


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    It is ok to state that due to genetics physical differences are possible (those Kenyans always seem to win foot races and that isn't because of systematic bias), but why not mental? Because of failure to keep personal opinions and bias out of work.

    On the subject of Watson's comments, he seems a bit non-scientifically racist (not to use "scientific racism" as a terrible pejorative phrase)
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2007
  4. Oct 19, 2007 #3


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    I think society is not ready for things like this.
  5. Oct 19, 2007 #4


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    I'm pretty confused by his statements a few days later - he doesn't seem to know what he said. Is he just trying to cover for himself?
    http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2007/10/dna-pioneer-sus.html?loc=interstitialskip [Broken]
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  6. Oct 19, 2007 #5


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    There's also the option that the quote was fabricated or a misquote. He seems to hold two very different but similar positions in the first and second quote in the original post by waht.
  7. Oct 19, 2007 #6
    His manner of expressing himself is such that it would be easy to make him appear racist even if he isn't. This one: "He writes that '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'”. Is, by itself, merely a statement that facts are what they are and don't emerge from human ideals. In this context, though, it seems to be saying: "Fact show they aren't equal to us." Is that what he actually meant? I don't know.

    There is a lot of cutting and pasting here; many of the quote are mere fragments, and you have to wonder to what extent the writer edited a kind of "worst possible version" of his actual statements, out from something that was originally more neutral, or which was saying something far less controversial, hence, his inability to recognize it.
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  8. Oct 19, 2007 #7


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    A major source of confusion here is that dominant sloppy thinking makes out any and every stated "unequalness", factual or not, to be the result of "racism", i.e, the idea that some human races are of higher moral worth than others due to some genetic distinction.

    But, in the outset, this is totally flawed, since degrees of moral worth is related to capacity for responsibility (or if you like, the capacity for exercising "free will").

    There is nothing to suggest that people of lower intelligence have less of such a capacity than those of higher intelligence, and hence, the person of lower intelligence has precisely the same moral worth than his more intelligent fellow.

    That argument works equally well at the racial, as at the individual level.

    While I personally doubt (to the point of dismissal) the truth of the assertion that Africans are statistically less intelligent than others, I don't think the assertion is particularly racist as such.

    It can be, but need not be that. In particular, it won't be that if it happens to be a true statement, rather than a veiled (racist) value judgment.
  9. Oct 19, 2007 #8
    The reality is that the difference between the best Kenyans and best Europeans in regards to foot races is very slight. It is seconds or minutes over 26 miles or 10,000 meters. It is enough to consistently win but in real life (say a research lab or a business), that slight of difference wouldn't even be noticeable.

    For practical purposes, personal, cultural and opportunity differences overwhelm any race difference. Is someone going to tell me Chinese are dumb because they only have won one scientific Nobel Prize? I would find that very funny.

    Naaa... Watson is just getting old and losing his mind. It happens to the best of us.
  10. Oct 20, 2007 #9


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    Regardless of the plausibility (or not) of his statements, I have to agree with this. I saw him give a talk a few weeks ago, and thought he was completely nuts. He made racial statements of various kinds, complained about his salary, insulted several colleagues, and randomly giggled at himself. I was dozing off at one point, but it sounded like he brought up his sexual abilities too. The whole thing was very strange.
  11. Oct 20, 2007 #10
    Hmmm. Sounds like a right frontal lobe problem.
  12. Oct 20, 2007 #11

    Ivan Seeking

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    Sounds like my neighbor.
  13. Oct 20, 2007 #12


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    Watson was rather incautious or perhaps thoughtless with those statements. IF there is a disparity based on test results, could it be because of environmental factors e.g. nutrition, culture, economics, . . . . rather than some inherent (genetic) deficiency?

    It's a shame that Watson chose to generalize on the points he did, let alone even mention the sensitive issue he did.
  14. Oct 20, 2007 #13


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    I think the difference is statistically relevant, but...
    Yeah, that's it entirely. In the US we have an abundance of black basketball players and white baseball players and in Kenya they have black runners. How does that happen? The population centers (cities) where most blacks live have an abundance of basketball courts (and they like basketball), so they grow up playing basketbal. Whites in the suburbs grow up playing baseball on the ample baseball fields. Africa, with its poverty, has little of either, so they run.

    Could be.
  15. Oct 21, 2007 #14
    In my lifetime (I'm a certified OF) we had an abundance of Jewish basketball players and an abundance of football players from coal towns. There's a huge cultural and socioeconomic momentum in all these groupings.
  16. Oct 21, 2007 #15
    I think it boils down to people being scared of investigating phenotypic differences resulting from nature (blaming nurture seems innocent), especially when it comes to the concept of intelligence capacity and overall physical ability, both when it comes to different ethnic differences and male/female relationship in our species and such research is labeled as taboo.

    People with a darker skin color has better protection in areas where the sun is more intense. People with a lighter skin color has a better efficiency in manufacturing vitamin D provided the same sunlight exposure. Due to men having a greater ability to produce testosterone, their ability to build muscles are better and they would therefore have a higher metabolic rate since muscles use up for energy than other cells.


    I would say it is the (unjust) fear of genetic determinism. Different groups adapt to their environment.

    It would be hard to come up with an evolutionary basis for measurable differences in intelligence in different ethnic groups that was a direct result from genetics. If one finds a difference, I agree that it is much more likely the result of nutrition, culture, economics etc. (on virtually everything you try and compare) than a genetic "deficiency".

    Overall, a quite unintelligent comment by Watson. As a scientist, one should be very careful and thoughtful preparing statements and especially when being interviewed in the media.
  17. Oct 21, 2007 #16


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    Another problem with the concept of "intelligence" in this context is that we tend to think of IQ as a measure of how good someone is at solving abstract problems. However, it is not at all obvious that having a hight IQ would have been an advantage (in evolutionary terms) during most of our history. After all, Einstein would presumably not have been as succesfull if he had lived in a hunter-gatherer society.
  18. Oct 21, 2007 #17
    Thing is, it doesn't sound like mere carlessness to me. It really does sound like a frontal lobe problem:


    The famous case is that of Phineus Gage who suffered frontal lobe damage in an industrial sccident:

    http://neuro.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/full/11/2/280?ck=nck [Broken]

    Watson may have had an undiagnosed stroke in his frontal lobe, or there maybe a tumor or cyst slowly developing.
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  19. Oct 21, 2007 #18


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    The problem is, how do we measure or test "intelligence" (which is a loaded term)? In my opinion, there seems to be an underlying assumption that the IQ test is a measure of "intelligence". That's not true, because IQ tests don't measure intelligence and were never meant to. So, IMO, Watson's comments seem very irresponsible considering that he's a nobel laureate.
  20. Oct 21, 2007 #19
    Exactly. Especially since there doesn't even seem to be a clear, coherent definition of intelligence that can be agreed on within the scientific community.
  21. Oct 24, 2007 #20
    Watson made a stupid statement. He is supposed to be a man of science, one who relies on undeniable evidence to prove a point. He failed in this regard. He simply made a whimsical statement with no hard proof or evidence (compare to the derivation of Maxwell's equations). He showed no science behind his outrageous statement, but racism stemming from his days in pre-civil rights US like other scientists.

    Also, he should be well aware that the concept of a black race is flawed. Genes are randomly distributed across the globe. You can't say a swath or people are the same because the share one genetic charactersitic (such as curly hair.). Contrast the southern Sudanese to the San. They are socially labeled as black because of curly hair but in all other ways they look completely different. This shows how the concept of race relies on faulty visual grouping.
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2007
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