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

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  • #1
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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?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7052416.stm

In his Sunday Times interview, Dr Watson was quoted as saying 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 was further quoted as saying that his hope was that everyone was equal but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".

His reply,

"We do not yet adequately understand the way in which the different environments in the world have selected over time the genes which determine our capacity to do different things," he is quoted as saying. "The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity.

"It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science. To question this is not to give in to racism. This is not a discussion about superiority or inferiority, it is about seeking to understand differences, about why some of us are great musicians and others great engineers."
This is interesting, one always assumes without question that everyone is equal. Is this scientific?
 

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  • #2
Mk
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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)
 
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  • #3
morphism
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I think society is not ready for things like this.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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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?
“I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.
http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2007/10/dna-pioneer-sus.html?loc=interstitialskip [Broken]
 
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  • #5
Mk
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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.
 
  • #6
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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]
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.

He says that he is “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”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. 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”.
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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  • #7
arildno
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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.
 
  • #8
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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.
 
  • #9
Stingray
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Naaa... Watson is just getting old and losing his mind. It happens to the best of us.
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.
 
  • #10
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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.
Hmmm. Sounds like a right frontal lobe problem.
 
  • #11
Ivan Seeking
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he was completely nuts. He made racial statements of various kinds, complained about his salary, insulted several colleagues, and randomly giggled at himself...
Sounds like my neighbor.
 
  • #12
Astronuc
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In his Sunday Times interview, Dr Watson was quoted as saying 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 was further quoted as saying that his hope was that everyone was equal but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".
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.
 
  • #13
russ_watters
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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.
I think the difference is statistically relevant, but...
For practical purposes, personal, cultural and opportunity differences overwhelm any race difference.
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.

Naaa... Watson is just getting old and losing his mind. It happens to the best of us.
Could be.
 
  • #14
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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?
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.
 
  • #15
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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.
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.

etc.

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.
 
  • #16
f95toli
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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.
 
  • #17
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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.
Thing is, it doesn't sound like mere carlessness to me. It really does sound like a frontal lobe problem:

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.


The frontal lobes have been found to play a part in impulse control, judgment, language production, working memory, motor function, sexual behavior, socialization, and spontaneity. The frontal lobes assist in planning, coordinating, controlling, and executing behavior. People who have damaged frontal lobes may experience problems with these aspects of cognitive function, being at times impulsive; impaired in their ability to plan and execute complex sequences of actions; perhaps persisting with one course of action or pattern of behavior when a change would be appropriate (perseveration)...

...The so-called executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frontal_lobe

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


His contractors, who regarded him as the most efficient and capable foreman in their employ previous to his injury, considered the change in his mind so marked that they could not give him his place again. He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity (which was not previously his custom), manifesting but little deference for his fellows, impatient of restraint or advice when it conflicts with his desires, at times pertinaciously obstinate, yet capricious and vacillating, devising many plans of future operation, which are no sooner arranged than they are abandoned in turn for others appearing more feasible. In this regard, his mind was radically changed, so decidedly that his friends and acquaintances said he was "no longer Gage."
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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  • #18
siddharth
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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".
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.
 
  • #19
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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.
 
  • #20
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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.
 
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  • #21
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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.
Another pattern I am noticing is that , people living near the equator tend to live in hunter gather societies while cultures in colder climates , I don't know if this will make me sound racist, but are more urbanized, have universities, different modes of transportation that will allow people in those regions of the world to travel around easier. Then again, of course, some african cultures have a terrible ways of transmitting information from one generation to the next , so , I guess , to outsiders who rely on books , and computers, to cannot see how some of the african cultures store information. Seems like maybe people in the colder regions had to adapt more so than the people in the warmer regions because the geography of the warmer climate does really required you to adapt to your surounding very much, at least when it comes to weather. I say the geographical area you stay in has more influence on a person's intelligence than a person's race because then if intelligence depended upon the race of the person, then many people in the warmer regions wouldn't be able to survive in colder climates.
 
  • #22
cronxeh
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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.

Undeniable evidence? What is your reality but probabilities and incomplete sets of infinite unknown variables. Dr Watson's statements are supportive of current reality. Take a good look at the facts and don't blindly label someone a racist if they speak of controversial topics.
 
  • #23
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Another pattern I am noticing is that , people living near the equator tend to live in hunter gather societies while cultures in colder climates , I don't know if this will make me sound racist, but are more urbanized, have universities, different modes of transportation that will allow people in those regions of the world to travel around easier. Then again, of course, some african cultures have a terrible ways of transmitting information from one generation to the next , so , I guess , to outsiders who rely on books , and computers, to cannot see how some of the african cultures store information. Seems like maybe people in the colder regions had to adapt more so than the people in the warmer regions because the geography of the warmer climate does really required you to adapt to your surounding very much, at least when it comes to weather. I say the geographical area you stay in has more influence on a person's intelligence than a person's race because then if intelligence depended upon the race of the person, then many people in the warmer regions wouldn't be able to survive in colder climates.
Benzoate, we learn in middle school social studies that all cultures were "hunter gatherer" at one point. The "people in colder climates" were hunter gatherer too. Vikings/various Germanic tribes , Slavs, they were all hunter gatherers. You might be surprised to know that these people were considered barbaric by the Romans(go to dictionary.com).
How do the "African cultures store information"? Are you referring to Moors, San, Egyptians, or Amhara? That's big continent so you need to be specific. Again, oral preservation of history is something you can find all over the world (and among northern Europeans before they learned to write and read).

Universities and urban development is all over the world. Your argument does not make any sense.
 
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  • #24
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Dr Watson's statements are supportive of current reality.
Oh boy.
 
  • #25
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Take a good look at the facts and don't blindly label someone a racist if they speak of controversial topics.
His fault was not speaking of a controversial topic. It was a silly conclusion.
 

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