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A Racist Attack on Black Intelligence

October 17, 2007

Dr. James Watson

Hat Tip The Independent (London)

Celebrated scientist attacked for race comments: “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”

By Cahal Milmo

Published: 17 October 2007

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.” (Emphasis Added)

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.”

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. august permalink
    October 19, 2007 2:45 am

    Can you imagine being so talented and the only thing you do with your talent is bash other people. But then again, he is getting up there in age so you never know.

  2. joe permalink
    October 19, 2007 10:10 am

    I think it’s unfortunate that he can’t say what he says without the threat of legal action or professional censure. This man is a commentator, let him comment!

    The concept of “wrong opinions” is something surprising, especially coming from people who otherwise proudly declare themselves “open minded.” Moreover, this man above most others can speak with authority on the subject and may in the process be able to identify something that could be addressed through research and policy change.

    The elephant in the room that nobody wants to see is: “What if he’s correct?” Should we continue a misguided and failed approach to addressing social ills in Africa and worldwide? If we’re more concerned with how everybody feels and refuse to address a potentially fixable problem, nobody will ever be allowed to fix it.

  3. October 19, 2007 10:17 am

    Joe,

    The fact that you would rather ascribe any degree of truth to his statements, as opposed to question whether they were driven by racial animus is telling.

  4. Dave permalink
    October 26, 2007 5:04 am

    thoughtmerchant,

    Do you call yourself thought merchant, because you sell people thoughts so they don’t have to think for themselves? Do you make them up yourself or do you buy it from the same place all the other non-thinking plebes get theirs?

    I find it interesting that so many people have the knee-jerk reaction to Dr Watson’s comment as “racially prejudiced” and pull out their pitch-forks and torches and gather a lynch mob to silence him and anyone that dares even come close to defending him. Joe asked a very valid question: WHAT IF HE WAS RIGHT?!?

    I mean seriously, everyone is asking “how can a guy that is this smart say something so racist?” With out asking “if hes that smart, maybe he’s given the matter a tinsy bit of thought over his entire life?”

    Of course, the “tests” Dr Waton’s statment were no doubt referring to are the scientific research done in the 80s and early 90s on intelligence. Studies were done in an effort to find a way to test intelligence across cultures and races, and in each study, on each test, even testing young children at public schools, black children scored, on average, 1 standard deviation below average.
    Source: A Question of Intelligence: The IQ Debate in America (New York: Birch Lane, 1992), 150-153

    So rather than sticking your head in the nearest dark hole and pretending that we are all the EXACT same in every way, maybe you could combat Dr Watson’s statments with some scientific research proving him wrong? Isn’t that the basis of open-minded scientific research?

    A wise man once said to me, “as a scientist, when you form an opinion, do not coddle it. Instead, once you arrive at a conclusion, you must constantly test it. Smash it against a brick wall, and when it smashes against that brick wall, go through the peices and if there is anything but brick and mortar in the rubble, then your theory is not solid and needs revision.” Paraphrasing, but it has been some years since I took his class.

  5. January 4, 2008 6:04 pm

    I don’t believe that any race is inheritely smarter then any other race. I took an IQ test and some general knowledge questions where “Who wrote Faust?” and “Who was Ghandi?” and “Who was Martin Luther King jr?” and “What’s the Koran?” So I think the culture bias is slowly going away. However an Asian friend has said “Why do Asians who have English as a second language score better then everyone on IQ test that have English?” And I said “Because people who speak English as a first language take it for granted and not study it” Some aspects of the test require objective thought, and to be objective your mind must be congruent with reality, in other words what’s in your head must match what’s in the world. Reason, logic, they are skills that one can learn. Also of note is how Athiest have higher IQ’s on average then religious people (another possible reason why Asians beat us in IQ test, alot of people in China and Japan are athiest compared to America!). But since religion has to do with “faith” (read: believing in stuff that contradicts reality like a man walking on water or only seven day’s for the Earth to form) it is more acceptable to compare IQ by religion instead of color. IQ test are still far from perfect and aren’t even a real indicator of intelligence.

  6. Maggie permalink
    May 6, 2008 2:43 pm

    It is consistent with Dr. Watson to make mind boggling comments. However, comments potentially destructive to the most vulnerable, primarily young black students is a great diservice not only to the black people but to us all. Creating doubt to these students’ ability to perform academically affects us all. Societies will continue to deal with the aftermath of poor education achievements as a result of “self-fulfilling prophesy” that Dr. Watson’s comments have potential to fuel. It is unfortunate that a man of his distinction will leave behind such bad taste to his noble accomplishmets.

  7. November 21, 2009 3:23 pm

    The hypothesis that people can be divided into “races”, with skin color as the scarlet letter on Blacks of difference and inferiority is an inherently controversial hypothesis. Those who believe in the concept of “race” seem to have entirely ignored or discounted the recent DNA Human Genome Project evidence that biological “race” simply doesn’t exist and it never did.

    According to the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, Human Genome Program:

    “DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.”

    Blacks enable these biological “race” theorists by insisting on continuing to use the term “race” when we are referring to sociological “race,” rather than the disproved biological “race.” It analogous to otherwise intelligent and highly educated Blacks insisting that “hamburger” is the only acceptable term to use when speaking both of “hamburgers” and “hot dogs”, and the public should be able to tell the difference based on the context and based on who is making the argument.

    The fact is that sociological and biological race can NEVER be successfully disambiguated for the masses; so anyone who uses the word “race” for any reason is unintentionally but nonetheless quite harmfully enabling and supporting those who insist that biological race exists.

    Anybody who uses the word “race” for any reason is giving political and cultural cover to those who use the word “race” to mean “biological race”, which is a maze from which Blacks may never emerge unless we start looking for the exits. Virtually any alternative way of saying “sociological race” is preferable to using the word “race” by itself when intending to say “sociological race”. Because, believe it or not, most people don’t know what you mean when you say “race”, and they don’t know whether you’re endorsing biological “race” or sociological “race” That’s why I prefer the term “skin color group.”

    Since “race” never existed in the first place, we have been enslaved and persecuted based on our participation in the Black skin color group.

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