Friday, October 19, 2007

Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners

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.

Modolithic Studios has posted a lucid response to Watson's evident bigotry here.


tj said...

I don't have a dog in the fight per se, nor am I going to defend Watson's specific views, but why is it heresy to believe that there are genetic differences in intelligence between various groups of humanity - we certainly vary with regards to physical traits and characteristics (which are controlled by DNA) so why are genetic factors controlling intelligence "off limits" to even discuss?

I'm not surprised there hasn't been much accurate study of the subject in modern times becuase of the sensitive nature of the topic. Same with male/female brain differences. Any scientist who might come out with research that deviates from the current PC dogma that all humans MUST be equal in all matters of intelligence regardless of gender or race - no questions asked - will quickly be beat out of the field and lose their jobs and funding. Case in point: Harvard's former prez.

As with all sensitive/heated subjects, one would hope that science would look to uncover the objective truth as best it can, possible political implications and agendas be damned. I don't like the idea of science being used as a tool by society to advance its own pet agendas one way or the other - I strongly feel it's already being done with the whole global warming thing. You could say the same about UFOS -"Science" has decided that UFO's do not exist, therefore any evidence contrary to that established fact must, by definition, be false.

mr. intense said...

"All our social policies are based on the fact that their [blacks] intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really." --Dr. James Watson

Examine that sentence: it's internally inconsistent and self-contradictory. If it's a "fact" that black and white intelligence is the same, yet "all the testing" says it isn't, then which false factoids or rather _ideas_ is he choosing from?

His statement also begs the question of the actual nature of intelligence, since it's multi-faceted, and the fact that it's known that the vast majority of IQ tests, developed by western white men generally, are likely culturally biased, and don't really quantify levels of intelligence itself (just some aspects of it, in actuality).

Dr. Watson is a long-time racist, sexist, anti-gay, misogynistic bonehead. He also is now saying he doesn't recall saying what he was quoted about in the interview with the British Sunday Times where his racist comments first appeared, but also doesn't deny them! How fucking convenient! Stupidly attempting to create a bit of retroactive plausible deniablility for himself. How gutless!

I suspect he's become senile, unfortunately, but that is no excuse for his reprehensible comments.

See: for a profile on his history of saying and believing stupid, untrue things.

He has made yet another terrible mistake with his racist remarks. As a result, his book tour of Britain has been dropped after 3 of the venues he intended to speak at have cancelled his previously scheduled appearances, and he has returned from Britain back to the US due to his employer, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, NY, having now suspended him for and disavowing his idiotic remarks.

I don't think he deserved the Nobel prize for genetics, either, based on his dishonesty--see the quote below from the Independent newspaper profile I noted above:

"All his career James Watson has relished a good row, going out of his way, it seems, to court controversy. Even the triumph of decoding DNA was tinged with it. The discovery that the DNA molecule is shaped like a gently twisted ladder, a double helix that can unzip to make copies of itself to transmit life's hereditary information, owed a lot to the work of another scientist, Rosalind Franklin.

"Watson and his co-discoverer Francis Crick failed to mention Franklin in their Nobel Prize acceptance speeches. But then it emerged that they had been given some of Franklin's findings without her permission or knowledge. One of Franklin's colleagues had shown Watson an extraordinary X-ray photograph she had taken which clearly showed the helical structure of DNA. "The instant I saw the picture my mouth fell open and my pulse began to race," Watson admitted much later.

"But at the time Franklin went unacknowledged. Worse still, in his book The Double Helix, a gossipy account of the cracking of the code, Watson made derogatory remarks about her physical appearance, and painted her as a frigid, badly dressed and charmless bluestocking. She died four years before the Nobel Prize was awarded – from ovarian cancer at the age of just 37, possibly brought on by the constant radiation from her photography work.

"Even now Watson talks of her with a brutal frankness. "She was just awkward," he said. "I think she was partially autistic." Clever people, he aid, especially those with high mathematical abilities, often have autistic traits. It is characteristic of Watson that he applies this same plain-speaking to himself. "I never had an exceptional mind – I certainly wasn't in the same league as Francis [Crick]. I think I've succeeded more by learning what needed to be done next, and getting help in getting it done. I was just very focused and impatient."

Well, at least he admits he never had an exceptional mind--but that should be obvious, considering his history.

What an _asshole_!

mr. intense said...

Reference tj's remarks:

"...why is it heresy to believe that there are genetic differences in intelligence between various groups of humanity - we certainly vary with regards to physical traits and characteristics (which are controlled by DNA) so why are genetic factors controlling intelligence "off limits" to even discuss?"

I think you miss the point, tj. No one is saying it's "heresy" or "off limits" to discuss. Hell, people talk about it all the time.

I'm a first amendment absolutist--it's one of the greatest things about America that our constitution guarantees and our society generally respects and advocates free speech (with the exception of those fuckheads in the White House, et al).

The real question is, here, whether Watson's remarks were not just inappropriate and offensive, but more pertinently, whether they were accurate or truly scientifically based. I don't think they are. Science has shown much greater variations in "intelligence" _within_ different ethnic groups than _between_ them.

As I noted above, the idea of how variations in intelligence between or by comparing different ethnic groups (how they compare relative to each other), and whether one "race" is generally more intelligent overall than another has not been established as yet, for various _scientific_ reasons.

First, as I alluded to in my first comment above this one, how we both define and quantify intelligence is inherently limited and flawed. If you read about the history of how and why IQ tests of various kinds were first derived, you will realize that the vast majority of such tests were developed by academic white western males. Many of these tests, in part, rely on questions related to knowledge, and hence educational levels and cultural exposure and access to same, not inherent or "raw", genetically-derived intelligence.

Second, just what is and how we define the term "intelligence" is also a part of the problem. Do IQ tests quantify what are known as "street smarts", for example? No, of course not.

Economic status, family coherency, cultural predilictions regarding getting a good education, and a multiplicity of other factors that have nothing to do with genetic inheritance of higher levels of intelligence are major factors in doing well on IQ tests, which _is_ what Watson was referring to.

This is the old "nature vs. nuture" argument to some extent. Even geography and early nutrition play a role. If you are born a poor black child in the South, and you are born with the equivalent of an "average" IQ, and compare a white or asian child with an average IQ born into a middle-class or wealthy family, who do you think is going to test better on an IQ test when, in elementary school, the first tests to try to quantify "intelligence" are typically given? Guess.

Does that mean the child born into a poorer household, in an area with a lower quality of educational opportunity, and less exposure to those factors in the environment that would otherwise, if available, nuture and help the mind of such a child develop as well as the white or asian child born into a financially better off family? No, of course not.

We all start off with a certain genetic potential than can be either enhanced or retarded based on what kind of and the relative richness of the environment we develop within. Genetically based levels of intelligence are about _potential_, not how well one might do on an IQ test.

So, if the black child, after a few years in school, tests lower than a white child, and the white child tests lower, again on average, than an asian child, is the black dumb and the asian smart and the white just average and somewhere in between the two? No. It means that due to financial, educational, cultural, nutritional, birth order, and a _huge_ number of other factors and variables, some children's genetic potential is either enhanced to a greater or lesser degree, and that's what shows up on IQ testing. It does _not_ mean that one race or ethnic group, on average, is either less intelligent or more intelligent than another--it means that each child, depending on the opportunities made available to them, the values they are taught and adopt, and many other variables will allow the basic genetic potential to be unfolded or enhanced to some greater or lesser degree.

This has nothing to do with the overused and ideologically-loaded term "political correctness" or "PC dogma."

Unless there is some means or test that can quantify the relative IQ of a zygote just after conception, which of course there is not, other factors that have nothing to do with genetics enter into, affect, and determine the relative outcome of comparitive IQ levels or relative "intelligence" when a child is tested for same once in school.

And if some idiot like Watson wants to suggest we should intelligence testing as a way to determine domestic or foreign policy, which is implicit in his remarks, he is treading a false, and quite dangerous, path. We all have equal human rights, regardless of our IQ test scores. To suggest, as Watson does, that some members of the human race should be dealt with differently by others based on their ethnicity is akin to Hitlerian eugenics policies and just plain stupid and destructive to all. IMHO.

Michael said...

First of all, a well done by Mr. Intense, he has obviously done his research on this subject.

Tj asserts that he has “no dog in the fight per se”, and “I don't like the idea of science being used as a tool by society to advance its own pet agendas one way or the other.” I would suggest, as others have, that Dr. Watson has a dog and that his is a thinly veiled attempt to use scientific data to advance his own pet agendas on society.

There are volumes of research on the subject of IQ tests, their relevance, their bias, and their valid application in drawing conclusions. To ignore those studies is either willful or ignorant. One only need do the research. When the data from IQ and other aptitude type tests is manipulated to advance political agendas we all need to be concerned. The idea of one “race” being superior to another provides a sick justification to those who would assert their implied dominance. We are quick to think of the Nazi in this regard, but take a moment and reflect on this quote by Winston Churchill and it is easy to recognize the inherent danger.

“I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place”.

In summary, the research is there and that is one reason so many colleagues and others have spoken out against the views expressed by Dr. Watson. It has nothing to do with PC Dogma. Besides, we haven’t even found intelligent life in the universe yet, let alone how to measure it.


Anonymous said...

I'm sure that Einstein would have been considered a moron had he been forced to survive in the Kalahari....

Chris said...

Watson also doesn't seem to have much knowledge of recent (as in, the last 30 years) developments in our understanding of neuroplasticity. We used to believe that intelligence was "set" by a certain age, as a result of some unknown combination of hereditary and environmental factors. But now it's clear that the mind can form new neural pathways into old age, and that intelligence is situational, more dependent on the quality of stimulation than it is defined by inheritable factors. Maybe Watson should take up reading blogs. He could use the stimulation.

Anonymous said...

Watson is an old man, and more than DNA, age isn't always doing a good job with our intelligence.

TJ said...

>> I think you miss the point, tj. No one is saying it's "heresy" or "off limits" to discuss. Hell, people talk about it all the time.

Mr. intense, do people(scientists) REALLY openly talk about genetic variation amongst gender, race, and sexual orientaation etc. all the time? It seems to me as though those topics are taboo to discuss, unless the underlying intent, message, or conclusion it to disprove/deny any differences exist (a sort of reverse eugenics agenda)

I think it's impossible to deny the weight that social dogma and paradigms have on science and research. Again I go back to issues such as global warming, evolution, male/female, sexual preferences, anti-aging/hormone therapy (and yes UFOS!) etc. All of those issues have a strong social element to them whether people want to admit it or not.

I guess my comment, irregardless of people like Watson, is that given the social atmosphere of the world we live in, how can we trust science to objectivly detach itself from those pressures and influences?

I am especially dubious of modern research when it comes to issues that have an incredibly heavy social component, just as we are obviously dubious of any "research" done by Nazi scientists - both groups, in my opinion, implicitly (or explicitely) know where the research is supposed to lead them.

Modern scientists may convince themselves that they are free from agendas and social pressure, but I don't buy it. As with the IQ tests, social filters do have a large impact on how questons are asked, how data is sifted and analyzed, and what conclusions are drawn. I've seen it happen many, many times in certain subjects of interest to me.

To be clear, I'm sure that the same thing happens in all scientific fields, but I'm not well equipped to form opinions on whether supporters of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum reality have been strong-arming the Everett Many-Worlds and M-Theory guys!

On a side note, I can't argue that tests may have been biased in the past, though I'm surprised they still would be today after so much controversy. I think there are plenty of ways to ask unbiased questions (Imagine 5 points floating in space like X, now rotate that 90 degrees - which diagram matches that rotation? Language and logic tests can be designed to include and self-reference all pertinent data beforehand in the set-up)

It's not like the questions are "Johhny is an investment banker, which mutual fund has a higher rate of return...." No?

Anonymous said...

There are four basic problems with the Watson perspective, none of which is its glaring political incorrectness.

(In my view, so-called "political correctness" of whatever stripe is a total load of crapola. EVERYTHING should at least be "discussible," even notions that can be readily dismissed as racist or sexist, for example -- it's no accident that the whole CONCEPT of "political correctness" has its origin in the old Soviet Union. But don't get me started on THAT subject!)

Anyway, the four problems with Watson's perspective are as follows:

1) Intelligence tests themselves have been shown to be skewed in favor of test-takers who live under a system of Western education. Test designers and administrators may babbble on about the "cultural and educational neutrality" of the tests ad nauseum, but the fact is, there are known techniques for raising your I.Q. as much as 20 points on standard tests despite all attempts to make them tests of "native intelligence" per se and not of intellectual accomplishment.

2) Even assuming the validity of the test results, the fact is that intelligence as tested (wherever) follows the bell-shaped curve. And, inevitably, the bell curves of any two groups (European and native African, for example) show an extremely large overlap -- and this overlap means in rough terms that there are many, many native Africans who score higher on the tests than many, many Europeans. So if the political conclusion you want to draw from the disparity in scores is that people with higher scores ought to have greater political rights, you would end up disenfranchising large numbers of Europeans (and Americans, for that matter) and enfranchising large numbers of native Africans.

3) Political, social, and legal rights in a democracy are not, in any case, dependent on factors such as "innate intelligence" nor should they be. To do so would doubtless disenfranchise as many white supremacists as it would citizens of other races.

4) Because of its politically "loaded" character, this is a topic about which very little intelligent can be said (speaking of intelligence). And what there can be, I just said.

Anonymous said...

I suppose it all depends on a person, or persons definition of intelligence. Blacks and whites are just "different"
Its the same with the belief that females are less intelligent than males (or vice versa!). Again, its just that their intelligence is "different" Not superior or inferior.

Anonymous said...

Instead of "races" I prefer to say "genetic variation". Ethnicities are the result of genetic variation within the human species. If we follow Darwinism to its logical conclusion, certain variations within the species are inherently smarter than others -- albeit statistically and by a fraction. This is because intelligence is a biological trait, just like physical build. We're smarter than chimps (and also bigger than they are) because of our genes. We also share a common ancestry with chimps; we evolved separately due to natural selection out of random variation within our one ancestral population. According to Darwinism, natural selection is a process that emerges out of random variation, and this process is perpetual, never-ending. In other words, it's still going on within the human species no less than among the chimpanzees. So what does this tell us about certain ethnicities being just a little bit smarter than others (speaking in terms of generalities)?

Let's drop all the PC bullshit, ok?

Michael said...

"So what does this tell us about certain ethnicities being just a little bit smarter than others (speaking in terms of generalities)"?

Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, OK?

Anonymous said...

"Absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing, OK?"

Ahhhh, but it tells us everything!

1) There's a random variation of genes in any given population.
2) These genes determine skin, hair, eye color, body build, temperment -- and intelligence.
3) Genetic variations in a given population consolidate into ethnicities.


All ethincities are characterized by differing combinations of the aforementioned qualities. Given ENOUGH time for progressive genetic drift, ethnicities evolve into species. In fact this is exactly how we and the chimps, respectively, evolved from one ancestral population/gene pool.

It is therefore possible that many (although not all) ethnicities among white Europeans inherit genes which make them just a little more intelligent than many (although not all) ethnicities in Africa.

Natural selection at work.

Of course, Darwin could have been wrong...

Michael said...

Last word from this corner. There is just no evidence that supports your insistence of white European superiority of intelligence. Watson was a Doctor of Zoology, taught biology and studied gene structure. He was not a psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, or neurologist and was not qualified to even administer IQ tests let alone make sweeping judgments as to their validity.

Those who are qualified will tell you that there is no connection between height, hair color, eye color, place of birth etc., and intelligence.

Some believe that at any given time there may be as many eight superior intellects on the planet. These special individuals are beyond our current understanding of the capacities they exhibit. If any one of them were born into conditions where food, water, indeed existence itself was a daily struggle, and they had no availability of the information and education that we take for granted, the IQ tests we administer would be of no value in identifying them. It is just too difficult to quantify intelligence with the data and the tests we have at our disposal. That is not to say they do not measure certain capabilities and provide indicators of others, but they are far from identifying the "objective truth" concerning intelligence.

Anonymous said...

"Those who are qualified will tell you that there is no connection between height, hair color, eye color, place of birth etc., and intelligence."

From the Wikipedia:

"It is reasonable to expect that genetic influences on traits like IQ should become less important as one gains experiences with age. Surprisingly, the opposite occurs. Heritability measures in infancy are as low as 20%, around 40% in middle childhood, and as high as 80% in adulthood.[12] The American Psychological Association's 1995 task force on "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns" concluded that within the white population the heritability of IQ is "around .75". The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart, a multiyear study of 100 sets of reared-apart twins which was started in 1979, concluded that about 70% of the variance in IQ was found to be associated with genetic variation. Some of the correlation of IQs of twins may be a result of the effect of the maternal environment before birth, shedding some light on why IQ correlation between twins reared apart is so robust.[17]"

Read the rest of the article if you'd like; my point is that intelligence (or at least certain aspects of it which can be measured by tests) is INHERITED. It runs in families, and after all what are ethnicities but very large extended families?

Moreover, if we look at the relative success of European nations in modernizing (or even starting the process in the first place) verses the state which most of Africa continues to be in today -- and combine this with the socioeconomic advancement and social pathology of black people in the USA (take the idiots in New Orleans for instance), I think we're left with a pretty strong case that western ethnicities in general are to some degree more intelligent than many African ethnicities.