November 03, 2007

Reader Poll on James Watson

Reader passions are running high over the furor surrounding Nobel prize winner James Watson, which we reported last week. We have created an unscientific, online poll to survey reader opinions. The full poll can be found at this page. We welcome your thoughts. We are also reproducing the first question below. Each question can be voted on separately. You can vote on this one either here or at the full poll page. The current vote tallies will be given to you after you vote.

Following are additional com­ments on this ent­ry. Type your own in­to the space right of the first one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Watson is actually confused of what we mean by intelligence. He understood inteliigence to mean what occurs when you are able to write an equation or disect an animal and win a price largely determined by a white man. He forgot that all popular music as it is today, dance steps as it is today was developed by Africans and had remained where Africans had devoped them waiting for Africans to discover others. The best popular lirics were composed by Africans. He did not know that they require intelligence also. He forgot that it was the emergence of Africans in sports that a living man could run 100 m below 10 seconds. Ofcourse if he had judged intelligence based on these he will probably get another answer. It is mentallity such as Watsons that Great men like Albert Einstein despite all the genius in him was considerd fit for only 1 Nobel price, probably because he was not white. His Genetics also did not tell him that it requirs great intelligence and innovation for Africans to be the forebearing of all humans including Watson.

October 24, 2007 7:43 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Even if an opinion is racist it is not appropiate to try to supress it. If Dr. Watson believe Blacks are genetically inferior he is entiled to his opinion It can be critized as racist and not supportrd by sceintific but trying to silence him is wrong and at least as great a crime as racism

October 25, 2007 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If a statement has a scientific basis, it is not racisist. Depending on the research, it is either a scientific theory or a scientific fact. Watson is a scientist that made a statement based on scietific study. His statement is no more racist than if he would have said: "People of African decent have darker skin because of something called melanin" a statement that no one would dispute.

October 25, 2007 2:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous post #1 "is actually confused" about the definition of "intelligence". He uses dancing and running "100 m below 10 seconds" as examples of intelligence. I'm sorry, but both of those are examples of kinetics which have to do with physical skill, not mental skill.

Whether or not Dr. Watson is a racist is something I can't say since I don't know the man, but that fact cannot be discerned based solely on his statement if his statement is rooted in scientific research and not just a personal opinion.

That is backward thinking. If there is truth to his statement based on real science, then why should he be punished for stating it?

Charles Darwin is still vilified by many Christians, although he was one himself, for his factual research of natural selection which led to the theory of evolution as we know it today.

Galileo was imprisoned during the Inquisition for saying that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around. A fact that even young school children of today know to be true.

If there is any truth to Watson's statements about race and intelligence it is wrong to persecute him for voicing them.

Truth is always more important that political correctness.

October 25, 2007 3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just because something someone says is controversial or might offend someone does not make it either true or not true. The truth or falicy of Watson's comments can only be determided by what facts he and other scientists have gathered to support his comments.

October 25, 2007 3:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think many people share Watson's views but are too afraid to say so publicly. The disgraceful way in which he has been treated, and his quick recanting, are evidence of what they have fear.

There is legitimate concern about the consequences of such opinions ever being found to be true, although I think that concern is exaggerated and we have more to gain from knowing the truth.

October 25, 2007 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Intelligence, like all our characteristics is genetically based. It is likely that intelligence, however defined, varies between races, just like skin colour, hair type, etc, etc. Definition of intelligence, or better intelligences, is very confused and ill defined and there clearly needs to be more research on the topic. PC style reactions do not help anyone. Research can not change physical reality; possibly different races do have differing intellectual abilities and denying this does not change anything. Anyway such comments apply to some hypothetical mean ability and have no implications for the abilities of individuals, or groups of individuals.
Whatever, such opinions should be debated and hopefully settled by more research, not stifled by PC reaction.

October 25, 2007 4:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One should be held accountable for one's actions, not one's views. As was once said " I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death, your right to say it" Jefferson was reported to have said " There is no truth on earth that I fear" So it appears that we are doing a very poor job of protecting the right to free speech that was left to us by the Founding Fathers.

October 25, 2007 5:20 PM  
Blogger Stephen M said...

An essential flaw with political correctness is that beliefs commonly held in society aren't allowed to be aired out and confronted, but are left to fester and rot beneath the skin. Although I don't agree with Watson's statement, I have much less apprehension about somebody who expresses opinions I disagree with, thereby allowing others to confront them, than with the great majority of politically correct people who keep quiet or say the right things even though they implicitly practice the same social misconceptions while avoiding confrontation over them. For example, the same people who were so quick to pillory Watson are probably comfortable with the way that advanced placement programs in U.S. schools turn black kids into failures or with the prejudicial nature of sentencing for different kinds of drug use. And they probably check their purses or wallets when they see a black man on the street.

Regarding Watson's observation that people who have black people as employees would agree with him might well be true, but it doesn't necessarily support his position. Anthropologists know well that what seems to be laziness and simple-mindedness are ways of resisting and surviving inequitable or bad situations, and it takes both ingenuity and intelligence to pull it off and to disguise it. Uncle Remus's Brer Rabbit stories express the slave's explicit self-understanding of this truth.

Anthropologists have also shown that intelligence tests are tied to cultural values. If white suburban people were tested on the type of intelligence it takes to live in a peasant society or in a black ghetto, they'd probably be shown up as imbeciles. And along that line, I question whether industrial, fossil-fuel based society and the intelligence selected by it actually are fit in a Darwinian sense: take away the immense fossil energy subsidy supporting Watson's kind of intelligence and the society that goes with it, as predicted for later this century by Peak Oil theorists, and then see what will happen to Watson and the rest of us.

Finally, natural selection is a complex process with too many variables to predict what will be adaptive. It is a dangerous conceit for an organism to assume that it holds a privileged position in the evolution game, even and probably especially if he is a Nobel prize-winning scientist. Nature after all bears no prejudice in regard to extinction.

October 25, 2007 6:18 PM  
Blogger Penpal Andrew said...

I was not aware of any studies to compare intelligence in Africans vs. Europeans. This to me is too complex a thing to measure. It is obvious that Africa lacks political intelligence. No study is needed for that. It is also obvious that many more Africans suffer from malnutrition and diseases, which of course would affect intelligence in some form. But it would not affect intrinsic intelligence. On the other side, Africans represent the genetic source of humanity, and Europe is a minor offshoot to that. So, this makes comparisons ridiculous. And I personally know African people, and there is no evidence of a lack of intelligence. We should be discussing things that really matter, which is cultural. Why is it that Africa embraces religion, and Europe shuns it? I think that this indicates that African people are more in touch with a larger scope of life which includes spirituality. Europe is a rotting corpse, spiritually. Also, most modern music has come from people of color, such as jazz and R&B, and even the modern forms of hip hop. So, I would argue that there is something in the genes of Africans which is superior. And I am white USA person.

October 25, 2007 7:03 PM  
Blogger Gadfly said...

First, it is CLEARLY racist.

Read this SF Chronicle story. He made similar comments in a conference at Berkeley seven years ago.

Second, like Shockley and others, he assumes the existence of "g," a universal quotient of intelligence testable by standardized aptitude tests. Instead, "g," in a matter of circular definition, is simply what the tests define as intelligence, without outside empirical confirmation, and with much empirical disconfirmation.

On the poll, I find it disconcerting that a majority of respondents believe his comments weren't racist; I hope that you can put my link to the Chron story in a new blog post.

October 25, 2007 7:31 PM  
Blogger ADR said...

It seems to me that the only real issue here should be what kind of research Dr. Watson based his conclusions on, and whether the methodology involved is reliable. If so, then he was stating a valid theory based on best evidence. If not, then his statement is little more than a personal opinion, and should be treated as such. For my part, I believe, given some of the questionable content of his statement, that it is most likely the latter.

In any case, the scientific community should not be in the business of censorship or quashing ideas, as it is antithetical to scientific progress. If people are so offended by Watson's ideas, they are free to disprove them, or to pick apart the research. That is an appropriate response, censure and personal attacks are not.

October 25, 2007 7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This "debate" reminds me of the "debate" that surfaced in the 1990s when "The Bell Curve" was published. Several mainstream journalists gave unneeded attention to the book because it presented a facade of science, all the while admitting that they could not understand the authors' statistics. At the same time, mainstream scientists vilified the book, noting that the premises were flawed and that the statistics were misinterpreted to support questionable (and pre-ordained) conclusions. The press' unquestioning acceptance of that book was an embarrassment that reveals our citizens' ignorance of science and disregard for science education. It seems that little has changed.

You can support Watson's right to free speech to your heart's content. That right doesn't entitle him to a position as head crackpot of a legitimate research organization, spouting racism and citing pseudo-scientific research. He is an embarrassment to them, and should have retired long ago.

P.S. Anyone who looks the word "racism" up in a dictionary will clearly see how racist his comments were.

October 25, 2007 8:41 PM  
Blogger Paul Antonik Wakfer said...

I fully support Watson's entitlement to state his opinion on the relative average "intellegence" of any given groups of humans. I also concure that this is a legitimate area of scientific investigation (even if I don't think that it is of much worth, particularly as it is currently being done). There are two major things which make such studies of little practical value.

1) Intelligence is highly multi-factorial. This means that there are many different kinds of intelligence applicable to different kinds of scenarios. Therefore, it is virtually impossible to even state that one individual is overall more intelligent than another, let alone to try to determine this for two collectives of humans.

2) Just as there is no such thing as collective thinking, there is also no such thing as collective intelligence and even moreso no value to collective average intelligence measurements. This is because what matters are the decisions and actions of individuals.

3) Because individuals matter most, even if by some measure the average intelligence of some group was marginally less than some other group, this is of little consequence when the former group can still have large numbers of its members who are well above the majority of the latter group with respect to some reasonable and important measures of intelligence.

--Paul Wakfer

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October 25, 2007 9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Watson has the legal right to free speech. Nobody is taking, or has taken, that away from him. But just because you have the right to say something does mean you are beyond censure when you say it.

It's funny how it's worse to call someone a racist than it is to be racist in the first place...

October 25, 2007 9:50 PM  
Anonymous Alos23 said...

Aside from his racist statements, which he may believe are legitimate and based in science, what bothers me the most is that in the article he is referred to as "co-discovering" DNA, implying Watson-Crick, when it was actually Rosalind Elsie Franklin who pioneered the discovery and only Watson-Crick who published.

October 25, 2007 10:40 PM  
Anonymous Rory Short said...

Us human beings are very complex creatures,each one unique in his or her own way, so to make blanket statements about particular groupings of individuals might be convenient but it will be fraught with errors and inconsistencies at an individual level. We degrade the quality of human life when we try to relate to one and other on the basis of generalisations of any kind.

October 25, 2007 11:23 PM  
Blogger SYLVIAesw said...

In my opinion, the vote is going in the right direction. A man should not be labeled for an opinion he has made based on his scientific study. If this is the attitude then there is no scope for scientists to find true answers. Lets hear him out. Maybe he has some good answers. Lets not rush being judgmental before hearing every thing he has to say.

October 25, 2007 11:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a great believer in the idea of multiple intelligences and also in the fact that intelligences are genetically based. So it is perfectly possible to have evidence that certain races will excell in analytical intelligence others in artistic or musical intelligence.
Lets look at the evidence!!!

October 26, 2007 1:37 AM  
Anonymous Arnold said...

The problem with the questions was that they involve a package deal. I simply could not answer them without qualification. There are several issues here:
1) The right to free speech.
2) The right (of an employer) to fire those whom he no longer wishes to contract with.
3) The question of what constitutes racism.
4) The quality and validity of the study in question.

In order:
1) Free speech does not obligate others to provide a platform for you, or to listen to you

2) The employer doesn't have to prove you are wrong. It's his money to spend as he wishes.

3) The most mis-understood word is "racism". It is almost universally equated with "culture. A little thought will soon reveal that race is a genetic inheritance not open to choice, whilest culture is a set of beliefs and customs one is free to change. Culture is volitional, and thus must involve judgement and evaluation. Race is beyond judgement.
5) I believe that the study fails because no evidence exists that excludes culture from race in the conclusions. No evidence that race and genetics alone set limits on intelligence.

October 26, 2007 1:49 AM  
Blogger Alexander said...

I cannot see how carrying out reasearch about intelligence that involves comparisons between different groups is related to the actual worth of human life. If we compared a group of people with Down's syndrome and a group of 'healthy' individuals then we would inarguably find a difference in IQ (or any other measuring tool for intelligence). Yet, that doesn't make most of us take it as proof of people with Down's syndrome being inferior in worth. My point is that things like intelligence are irrelevant to determine human worth. Native african populations are infintely closer to caucasian populations in intelligence than to people with Down's but that doesn't make the point. It could be the other way round, whites being the less intelligent ones on average; it would not make any difference. I don't see anybody criticizing studies of average physical strength in populations and we all know that certain populations are considerably physically weaker than others. However, we clearly see that physical strenght isn't related to human worth. If we get ourselves to understand that neither is intelligence (at least in such small deviances) then the whole conflict will cease to exist.

All this debate proves is people's ignorance and bias about the issues they try to defend.

October 26, 2007 5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymus #3 said ...
Charles Darwin is still vilified by many Christians, although he was one himself,...

This is simply not true. Darwin was often hostile to Christianity after the death of his daughter and often claimed to be an agnostic or theist in interviews. He was emphatically NOT a Christian. Certainly a large portion of hostility from the conservative Christian community is a reaction to Darwin's fundamental hostility to them. This historical side note is important because it continues to affect the quality of science education in the US today. (Here's a good summary's_views_on_religion.)

Otherwise, Watson's remarks certainly sound racist. My problem is the overly sensitive reaction here. We should be mature enough to discuss these issues -- especially in a scientific context -- without having severe emotional reaction preclude conversation on these topics.

The scientific community is often really, really good at overlooking the "human" angle on so many topics. Even though multiple studies show we aren't Vulcans (Star Trek), but need emotions to make sound judgements, the scientific community very often continues to overlook or minimumize the valid emotions involved in ethical issues.

The scientific community NEEDS this discussion. Instead the whole ugly thing has been shoved under the collective scientific rug. The entry barriers to women and minorities will remain firmly in place, and the scientific community will suffer marginalization (and lack of funding) in the political discussions. And the general community will suffer for lack of useable scientific input.

Things could be so much better if we'd just "grow up" a bit!

October 26, 2007 7:37 AM  
Blogger Marshalldoc said...

As a retired physician with a background in laboratory research and as a committed advocate for civil rights & peace-justice issues, I find the results of this poll (as of 09:25 CST, 10.26.07) very disturbing.

It appears that either people are presuming that because Dr. Watson voiced an opinion (based on who knows what - considering he’s disavowed it) it has intrinsic value as real science or, as has become so common recently, opinions are considered worthy simply because they’ve been voiced. If, as I suspect may be the case, Dr. Watson’s comments (and his subsequent statements that he can’t recall making them) represent early dementia (not unexpected at his age), his supporters may feel a little sheepish at their unqualified support.

That aside, as I understand the comments published by respected scientists on the cutting edge of genetic and psychological research (particularly as garnered in response to this controversy), none of the comments made by Dr. Watson represent the actual state of our scientific knowledge regarding intelligence and, if it actually exists from a genetic standpoint, race.

Hence, the only question in the poll that might reasonably have been answered in his ‘favor’ was whether the London Science Museum was right to cancel his speech since it could be construed as censorship of unpopular ideas in the public forum. If the museum is a private enterprise, however, they have the right to determine whom they sponsor.

Otherwise, as I said above, his comments appear to represent his own ‘wild hair’ and not bone fide science (unless you’re reading 19th century eugenics). Was Cold Spring Harbor right to cashier him? Unless they want his views representing their institution.. You bet! As an employee and representative of an organization, one’s public statements represent that organization to the public and their tolerance of Watson’s intolerant remarks would make them complicit and further would have cast a pall over their hiring and promotion practices.

Will the world’s response to Watson’s remarks “put a chill” on scientist’s free speech? Not if their speech is backed up with science. It may well put a chill on scientists ‘running their mouths’ on subjects they are unqualified to voice anything more than a personal opinion on… not necessarily a bad thing.
Should his critics ‘just leave him alone’? Nope! If you’re going to make idiotic pronouncements in public, one should be prepared for the public to pronounce you an idiot. There are no free lunches and people are responsible for their own actions.

Lastly, the overall results of this poll indicate that many of those responding seem to feel that Watson’s comments should be taken as some sort of gospel because of his past achievements (which were remarkable), that people should suffer no consequences regardless of what they say, and that any consequences they might suffer are unfair, and that anyone should be allowed to make whatever comments they wish without any criticism. This is the road to scientific and historical revisionism. A road that far too many people are already on.

My suspicion is that they hold these views as regards their own beliefs… only.

October 26, 2007 7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am unfamiliar with this scientist's work and am not endorsing it and as an educational psychologist I do appreciate the methodological problems and debates surrounding IQ and measurement. However, I do believe that scientists and the informed public must be open to the possibility that science may indeed demonstrate some inherent differences between groups, even if this runs counter to our egalitarian ideals. The instant career assassination that can result from a reflexive charge of racism is truly scary.

October 26, 2007 9:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot depends on the type of IQ test used. If it was designed for white culture, members of a different, e.g. black culture will not be familiar with the type of question and therefore produce lower scores. Commentators castigating Watson do not seem to understand the meaning of average and noraml distribution.Data from black and white groups will overlap, meaning that some blacks will score higher than some whites and vice versa.

October 26, 2007 9:39 AM  
Blogger ADR said...

I would like to respond to Marshalldoc's assertion that anyone who disagrees with the knee jerk reaction to Watson's statement must share his views (i.e. be racist).

To level a charge of racism at people for merely defending the concept of a free exchange of ideas is irresponsible at best. Perhaps what people are responding to in these polls is not Watson's statements so much as the rush to vilify him for daring to imply something offensive. If scientists cannot feel free to debate ideas, no matter how unpopular, then the essence of science is lost and we may as well decide facts by majority vote.

All you have to do is look at the nature of this discussion to see why the polls are skewing in the direction they are. Rather than defending or refuting the idea, nearly the entire discussion has been about whether one should even be allowed to express such an idea.

For the sake of scientific progress, no idea, no matter how contrary to conventional wisdom, should be quashed merely because it is unappealing. Were that kind of censorship acceptable in the scientific community, we would never have come to the point where race is seen for the collection of minor and mostly superficial attributes that it is.

To dismiss defense of the free exchange of ideas as nothing more than ill-concealed racism is not only wrong, it is grotesque, and says far more about your own prejudices than about those whom you so carelessly defame.

October 26, 2007 12:03 PM  
Anonymous RaulClimaco said...

I believe that individuals and private institutions have the right to decide what subjects will be discussed in events under their purview and by whom; so cancelling a lecture is NOT an injury to free speech, though it is better not to use the institutional or personal prerogative when it contributes to suppressing an ongoing public debate.

Organs belonging to the public are certainly not right in allowing their facilities to be used as platforms for any kind of attack upon a sector of the population. This applies to evident verbal attacks upon Jews, Latinos, Blacks, Anglos, Chinese, homosexuals, old people, and so on. You can tell an attack when you see one, so this is a fine point only in theory.

Firing someone for his opinions, even if just because they bring the [public] employer into disrepute, may certainly be quite legitimate. It is done all the time. Of course it should be done with full consideration to due process and the rights of the target employee. Summary dismissals or any other rail roading of the target employee are disgraceful, as is serious interference with valid scientific inquiry, or the harassment of researchers for being known to hold non-scientific private opinions in ways that do not compromise the obligations of the [public] employer.

In this case there is no respectful science of any kind involved, and the private opinions expressed do compromise the obligations of the employing institution; but the accused is clearly being rail roaded. He can be severely chastised; but not punished summarily with no proper inquest nor opportunity to make amends, if justified.

(To be continued)

October 26, 2007 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I reread Marshalldoc's post after reading ADR's post. Nowhere is there an assertion that "anyone who disagrees with the knee jerk reaction to Watson's statement must share his views (i.e. be racist)." I think ADR is exaggerating to make his/her point. Nor is there any suggestion that Watson should not be allowed to speak his mind on any subject.

One issue that is missing from this "debate" is the concept of peer review. In mainstream science, controversial results are not presented off-the-cuff; they are submitted to journals as articles that are reviewed by two or more scientists familiar with that field's literature. Articles that don't survive the review are not published; those that do are usually revised at least once to satisfy the reviewers and editors for the journal. Even then, the results may not be accepted until they are supported by other studies passing peer review. This is how science protects itself from corruption.

Watson is familiar with this process, having had his Nobel-Prize winning work vetted and supported by such journals. Has he done the same with his observations on race? No one here has suggested that he has. I would be surprised if anyone could.

The criticism here is not that Watson had the temerity to speak up, but rather that he chose to assert his (racist) beliefs without proving them in the conventional scientific manner. He is counting on his reputation (and not his data) to sway listeners.
This is unbecoming for a man of his stature running a legitimate research organization. In another field, that level of sloppiness might be called malpractice or negligence. In any event, it's a tragedy and an embarrassment.

October 26, 2007 1:15 PM  
Blogger ADR said...

Anonymous, you will find that very accusation in the last line of Marshalldoc's post, as well as in the second and second to last paragraph. It is clearly implied that those who defend the man's right to speak (even if he is speaking idiocy) are doing so because they agree with what he said. Indeed, that the only reason to vote that way is if they agree with Watson's racist . Marshalldoc makes no room for the possibility that many of the people who voted in a manner he deemed "unreasonable" did so with any motivation other than racism. I am no racist, nor do I think that any reliable research exists to back up Watson's opinions. My only point has been that this has become largely a debate not about the merit of his statement (which is seriously dubious), but about whether he should be permitted to speak his mind.

If, as you say, the criticism is not about the fact that he spoke, but whether he has anything to back it up other than his own opinion and some outdated, questionable studies, then we are on the same side. If you read my first post, you will surely see that. In the second, I was merely defending myself against an accusation of racism, based solely on standing up for the free exchange of ideas. This accusation, I might add, comes from someone who also characterized answers other than his own as "unreasonable". Since you have difficulty finding these passages, you will find it in the fourth paragraph.

The poll wasn't asking whether the organizations in question had the right to respond by censoring him, but whether they were right to do so. I do not think that it is remotely unreasonable to have differing opinions on whether their response was right or not. Clearly, a majority of respondents to the poll think that the reaction to Watson's statement was excessive. Yet, Marshalldoc has clearly implied that every one of those voters must therefore be, by dint of their opinion on this one question, racist. It is little wonder that he finds it disturbing, if even a simple defense of a man's right to speak is, in his mind, a blatant display of racism.

Do reread Marshalldoc's post with an eye to what he is saying about anyone who disagrees with his viewpoint (that they are racist, unreasonable and too stupid to distinguish opinions from scientific theories), and then tell me that taking offense to it is unwarranted.

This is exactly what I was talking about, that the debate has entirely left the realm of scientific discussion and entered one of personal attacks, not only on the man who spoke the words, but on those who hold opinions on every facet of the issue. It is deeply disheartening to see that nothing can be discussed with civility anymore, that it always devolves into factions attacking one another.

I must add that I find it very interesting that while there is a huge uproar in response to Watson's statement about the relative intelligence of Europeans and Africans, I have heard little about his assertion that women should have the right to abort when the pregnancy would produce gay offspring. Is the suggestion that homosexuals shouldn't be allowed to exist so much less offensive than the suggestion that different races possess different intelligences?

October 26, 2007 9:25 PM  
Blogger William R. said...

In science, it is not always the case that a researcher seeks peer review prior to discussion of an issue. The existence of published data, however dubious, is a valid basis to form an opinion. The political incorrectness of any such opinion is no reason to squelch is discussion and dissemination. Further, such notions as the disparate performance of different racial groups relative to intelligence tests is not necessarily racist. Slight differences might well exist, versus measures like lifetime, intelligence, and other genetically dependent characters.

While personal relationships between individuals may not exhibit the features obtained through statistical investigation, neither does their lack of observation imply that such statistical investigation is incorrect - that the data obtained does not imply the conclusion derived.

Also, would it be so terrible if persons of African descent measured, on average, a few points lower on an intelligence test? I think not. No more, that is, than the observation that persons of African descent enjoy shorter lives, nor that persons of African descent enjoy characters superior to those enjoyed by members of other genetic classes. Such statistical differences are of marginal effect in the overall life of individuals.

In the long run, the political correctness movement is counter productive to society. Rather than ban speech which discusses racial and cultural differences, we should instead embrace such discussion. Further, where an individual is truly disposed to racial bigotry, we should encourage their open speech, that we may collectively know them well. The alternative is to return to the moribund religious theocracies and aristocracies of the Middle Ages.

I would rather hear ideas which I reject, than to hear no ideas at all.

October 27, 2007 1:43 PM  
Blogger William R. said...

ADR is correct, and MarshallDoc did very strongly imply that respondants, by nature of their general support for Watson via answers to questions posed, are equally racist. As he/she claims to be a physician and a researcher, MarshallDoc should understand well the blanket implications, and thereby prejudicial nature, of that last statement, so well identified by ADR.

October 27, 2007 2:25 PM  
Blogger Marshalldoc said...

In response to ADR’s attempt to turn my argument back upon myself let me say this:

Nobody (myself included) ever said Dr. Watson was not allowed to spout whatever view he chooses to hold. By the same token, disallowing editorial comment upon those views is also censorship. Just as we allow, by law, Neo-Nazis to spout an ethos the world spent nearly 50 million lives trying to stamp out and we allow the KKK (and their New Jim Crow brethren) to voice, oh so subtly, a worldview that’s indisputably (amongst the majority of us, anyway) racist, we expect our responsible neighbors to immediately recognize and label for what it is. And, for the most part that keeps the crazies in their caves and the ‘free exchange of ideas’ flowing.

What’s missing from your argument is the question of the value of a given individual’s opinion on a given subject. That value is not intrinsic (despite your mother having convinced you that everything you do is wonderful). One’s thoughts, particularly on issues in which the scientific method can be applied, are valuable only to the extent that they are supported by rational evidence. Unsupported thoughts are merely opinions, and, like assholes, everybody’s got ‘em.

The issue with Watson’s comments is that, because of his stature in the world of science, one assumes (understanding the risks of assumptions) that his statements carry the weight of his scientific knowledge. And, therein lies the error. Dr. Watson, as far as I know, has not done research on human genetics or in psychology as applies to the issues of intelligence, race, or any of the other potential issues his comments raised. His bibliography in that area is, evidently, nil. On the other hand, the vast majority of those with qualifications in the field labeled his comments, at the most forgiving, as “unsupported”.

Consequently, when Dr. Watson chose to voice opinions upon which he has no scientific data, he placed himself at the same level as any other person giving voice to his wind.

But your comment has a deeper ramification. It is your argument that any argument, regardless of its idiocy, be given equal weight with any other. Hence, our society wastes its time, resources, and efforts in useless debates over whether or not a mythological explanation of natural events be given equal weight in our children’s education in order to “teach the controversy”, various groups attempt to eradicate others based on their own particular mythology - all of which must be given “respect” no matter how insane.

Is it your position that failing to teach our children astrology along with astronomy is censorship? Do you advocate then that they study numerology and mathematics concomitantly? Alchemy and Chemistry? Phrenology and Anatomy? Flat Earth and Geography? Geocentrism and the Big Bang? Do you really mean that every opinion deserves our serious consideration even when the overwhelming preponderance of the data indicates that one side of the argument is delusional?

One hopes your answer is … uh, well no, I guess not.

Do you propose some test by which some ideas are more or less acceptable in the realm of science? I mean some test other than peer-reviewed research conducted according to the scientific method or is it your contention that you'll just "know" which ideas are too idiotic to spend time discussing?

You make the unrealistic contention that mankind's progress to whatever "point" we've achieved has been through the unrestricted free flow of idle conversation. Not so! We've come to where we are (wherever that is) by the painstaking, inch by inch, advance of science wrested from the grip of people’s unsupported opinions ("the Earth is flat") held by those incapable of understanding the difference between thinking (and wishing) something is so and proving something is so.

You write: “To dismiss defense of the free exchange of ideas as nothing more than ill-concealed racism is not only wrong, it is grotesque, and says far more about your own prejudices than about those whom you so carelessly defame.”

I’m hard pressed to know what prejudices of mine your allude to but consider this: It says far more about those who fail to understand the nature of idiotic comments, regardless of the source, and who consider anything that issues from someone’s mouth (particularly their own) as valuable, regardless of its lack of intrinsic worth, than it says about those willing to immediately stand up and say “The Emperor Has No Cloths!”

Dr. Watson was not shouted off the podium because his ideas flew in the face of convention. He was shouted down because his ideas were unscientific racist B.S.

That you choose to morph the issue into a 1st Amendment issue suggests that naming it for what it is strikes you personally as well.

October 27, 2007 2:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do not have to think that Dr. Watson's words are scientific or valuable, or racist or not, to remember that he has the "inalienable right" to say them. Before you so readily revoke this right to freedom of speech from him, please try to remember that if you are successful, you are revoking it from yourself as well. One day your own opinion may be out of fashion, or just downright stupid.

Clearly we are all taking advantage of this Constitutional Right to voice our opinions in these comments we are posting, and we take this carefully crafted and hard-fought-for and won right for granted. We do not expect to be censured nor arrested for stating our opinions here. Do not take it for granted. Defend it, if not for Dr. Watson, then for yourself and your children.

October 27, 2007 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I cannot download the poll. Just gray squares. I have voted easily in other polls.

October 27, 2007 11:04 PM  
Blogger Marshalldoc said...

Response to “Anonymous”:

Again, you exaggerate and mis-frame the issue.

No “thought police” arrested Watson and carted him off to Gitmo for “re-education”, nor were his collected works burnt in a pile in righteous fury by irate citizens, nor were his family members persecuted for his egregious comments. Further, his comments not only were not censored, they were in fact, repeated ad nauseum in the world press for days on end. His views were transmitted far more effectively by those you accuse of ‘censorship’ than would have been the case had he published them in a book.

What you are saying, in effect, is: “Don’t criticize anything anybody says, for any reason - because all speech is valuable” which, as I pointed out before, just isn’t so (which does NOT mean they don’t have the Constitutional right to make asses of themselves in public - just as it allows others to point out the asinine quality of other‘s pronouncements and say ‘that‘s B.S. and I won‘t listen to it nor will I pay anyone to speak it).

What you are asking for is immunity from criticism for any irresponsible claptrap anyone chooses to voice in the name of free speech and, further, that no matter how disagreeable someone’s speech is to a limited group of people, the museum who engaged Watson for example, they’re obligated to listen to anyone’s babble in the name of free speech.

NOT SO! To demand otherwise is to demand a perverse totalitarianism in which Jews are forced to endure anti-Semitic attacks, African-Americans must hear White Supremacist screeds, Catholics must be subjected to KKK anti-Catholic rhetoric, Women are forced to hear right-wing Christian, Jewish, or Islamic misogynistic justifications, and so on - all in the name of "free speech". Our freedoms also include NOT having to endure objectionable speech by either being allowed to walk away, not buy the objectionable newspaper, not pay admission to the objectionable lecture, not view the objectionable movie or television program, or worship the objectionable idol. What is not included is being allowed to physically harm or restrain those whom we find objectionable or to destroy them or their property.

Another right, that is included under "free speech" is the right to stand up and tell someone that what they're saying is B.S. Why are you so irate that the world press, and scientists the world over, did just that in response to Watson's statements? Again, one wonders if the hystrical response to 'defend' Watson does not stem from a sense of personal injury because his 'defenders' secretly (or not so secretly) share his views and feel themselves injured by his fall from grace.

The furor over James Watson’s racist comments demonstrate that his “right to freedom of speech” was not only NOT revoked, it was enhanced! Had it truly been otherwise, you’d have never heard about it.

By recasting the issue as a 1st Amendment issue (which it most clearly is not, and never was) you deflect the argument from the central issue which is this:

Why do so many people flock to defend racist speech (regardless of whatever ‘false flag’ they fly) and what does that tell us about the state of racial justice in America today?

October 28, 2007 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A response to William R.:

I think your response to my posts, however well intentioned, glosses over several issues. I'll elaborate:

Regarding peer review:
Researchers do not always seek peer review before (informally) "discussing" an issue. However, peer review is the PRIMARY means by which scientists establish their expertise, their credibility, and their right to claim credit for their contributions. Scientists are primarily rewarded for their success in publishing peer-reviewed articles. Also, when grant agencies award research grants, they consider the scientist's history of publication as an indicator of their likely success.

In short: scientists who want to be taken seriously by other scientists publish their work in peer-reviewed journals. As noted, Watson spoke on his ideas at Berkeley over seven years ago. Normally, when someone gives such a talk, they have data to back up their claims. Why doesn't Watson have that data?

"The existence of published data, however dubious, is a valid basis to form an opinion."

In other words, you advocate making decisions based on dubious advice from other people with the same ax to grind. I think the war in Iraq proves how foolish that approach is. Only dubious people listen to dubious advice, or waste time discussing it.

Regarding measurable differences:
You ask, "would it be so terrible if persons of African descent measured, on average, a few points lower on an intelligence test? I think not. No more, that is, than the observation that persons of African descent enjoy shorter lives, ..." (I'm not touching your statement about "superior" character.)

In reading this question, I "suspect" (without "asserting") that you are not African-American. If you were (like me) you would probably be very concerned about these differences, especially considering that statistically significant differences properly measured in samples of thousands of people are indicative of serious systemic inter-sample differences. They are not "of marginal effect" as you claim. At least not to you. But they do affect others.

Take lifespan. Lifespan is an objective figure that can be measured from official documents with little error. Statistical differences in lifespan are evidence of racial differences in socioeconomic status, access to health care, community safety, etc. that can also be measured from official records. Knowledge of these differences alarms me: they are evidence of suffering and neglect. I want the differences addressed immediately. I'll be satisfied when the differences are no longer statistically significant.

Intelligence is another story. Even if I could be assured that intelligence could be measured accurately without bias (I'm not), I would be intensely concerned about measurable differences. Why? Because

a) I know how often such "differences" have been used as excuses to exploit and stereotype women and people of color.
b) I know that previous pseudo-scientists have gone to great lengths to exaggerate whatever differences they found to further point (a), even to the point of massaging their data or selling snake oil (as in the Bell Curve).
c) I know that such "differences" (when used per point (a) in making public policy) have a stunting effect on the education of women and people of color. We would do well to make sure that everyone has access to quality education.

Regarding political correctness:
"Free speech" is not free; it comes at the price of responsibility. It seems (to me) that many people who argue against "political correctness" are really just asking for the right to say offensive things without being criticized. I "suspect" (but do not "assert") that perhaps they cannot justify what they say. That's too bad. Personally, I would rather hear nothing at all, than spend time listening to speech with little value.

October 28, 2007 2:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't Watson tried to say that with current level of political inteligence of its leaders Africa's situation is not going to become any better in the nearest future? Wars, conflicts, healthcare, human rights, democracy - all this depend on inteligence of political leaders and those who have power in Africa. And what we see now in Africa is REALLY BAD - wars, bribery, corruption, crime, dehumanisation, powerty, prostitution. I trully believe African people are as inteligent as we Europeans are and inteligence may take many forms in human beings. But inteligence of many African leaders and political systems is certainly under question because of what they do with their own people. I wonder, why Watson sounded so politically incorrect ?.. Isn't it because of our apriori preconceptions of political correctness ? Might he tried formulating his thoughts more thoroughly before saying them in public ?..

October 30, 2007 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's always very easy for Europeans and Americans to disparage other groups then argue over whether or not it was right or wrong. Throughout history whites have demeaned people of color, enslaved them or otherwise ut them at distinct disadvantages. Whites do not hold the standards of morality. It seems that they constantly attempt to uphold stereotype threats that keep people of color down.

Watson's statement was racist...there is no doubt about that. Whether he intended it or not, many took it that way. Yet he has the right to say what he believes...just as I do.

Problems of race will only begin to be solved when we face each other squarely, through the prisms of history, and discuss why differences are so difficult for some to accept. Only when we do this will we fully realize that racism is one of the most horrid acts that humans participate in, try to cover up but eventually, like many rabid leaders before, will release the winds of war.

November 01, 2007 4:38 AM  
Blogger Stephen M said...

If Watson had not won the Nobel would there have been such furor? And would he have become so cavalier in expressing his opinions? I've been reflecting that Alfred Nobel played no uncertain mischief by raising certain individuals above others, and making it seem that their opinions should count more than others, even outside their own field, in the community project known as Science. I could go on, but I would get off the subject: Henry Kessinger and the "peace" prize, indigenous science as opposed to laboratory/institutional science, etc.

November 03, 2007 9:53 AM  
Blogger Stephen M said...

In answer to anonymous's "Didn't Watson tried to say that with current level of political inteligence of its leaders Africa's situation is not going to become any better in the nearest future?", the Africanist anthropologist Aidan Southall observed to me some years ago that many African leaders were creations of colonialism and that in the years following the end of formal colonialism that European political-economic interests have penetrated far deeper into the fabric of African society than at any time in the colonial period. The World Bank, furthermore, has subsequently systematically dismantled agriculture in Africa and torn apart African communities under the guise of development. Thus when assessing African leaders or African misfortune, there can be question of what actually is being assessed. I would agree that Watson "Might he tried formulating his thoughts more thoroughly before saying them in public", but I might also add that whatever his knowledge of genetics he was sorely ill-equipped for a complex topic requiring knowledge of history, politics, economics, social organization and culture. If he had reserved his comments to astronomy, on the other hand, he could have made an ass of himself without greatly upsetting anybody.

November 03, 2007 10:35 AM  
Blogger Francis said...

I do not know whether Watson is aware of this, but "intelligence" is nothing other than that what is measured by an IQ test. IQ tests as we know them were developed in the 20th century by mostly white caucasian, European & American psychologists in an effort to measure intellectual capability. Validation has always been a problem; people with high IQs are not necessarily succesful, and vice versa. More importantly, the IQ tests were developed with regard to both a particular genetic pool and a particular culture. Even the most sophisticated extraterrestrials might well score poorly in those earthly IQ tests. Similarly, North European Caucasians might score poorly in any such measures of intellectual capability as may have arisen in black Africa or, for that matter in South America, in the early 17th century. So Watson may perhaps have been right, but it appears wrong to link the alleged difference to any kind of "superiority"; there is no such thing as a truly universally (as in universe!) valid measure of intellectual capability. Francis C.

November 06, 2007 2:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since Oct.25, I have noticed new announcements which claim to link 3 different genes to some aspects of intelligence (mental ability).
None of these "headlined" any correlation with "race" or "ethnic" group - but the 400-year-old clam (oldest animal) has none of them.

To claim that there is no genetic basis to intelligence is that ridiculous. To assert that genetic differences lead to NO differences in predisposition ... you need to disavow cause-and-effect.
To suggest that people should not air their opinions, expectations, predictions, or concerns during an interview until they've gone through a "peer review" process ... you must've never watched a clear presentation of interesting ideas be conflagrigated into meaningless triviality.

Perhaps what is saddest about this event is that it took until Oct.30 before anyone mentioned what was actually said,
and another 3 days before the idea behind it was inspected.
hmmm - and then the posts stopped.


November 09, 2007 3:24 PM  
Anonymous Agent Jones said...

Any person who believes that human believes can be classified into races is a racist.
There are no currently accepted scientific criteria for classification of human beings into races.
Watson's comments about races were unscientific.
Watson showed that he does not understand the results and implications of genetic research since the chemical work for which he recieved the Nobel Prize.
Watson made comments outside his range of expertise, which were indicative of his personal opinions about people with certain physical characterisitics.
Watson mis-used the respectability conferred upon him by the Nobel Committee to promote his own racist views, and not for the first time.
Watson views had been criticised before for their lack of scientific support.
He had had ample warning that he was spouting pernicious nonsense that, if accepted, would have serious negative effects upon many people's well-being, nonsense to which no respectable academic or scientific research institution could possibly lend support without themselves being subject to well-deserved criticism and ridicule.
He should have known better.
He can still say anything that he wants, but he cannot now claim that what he says is respectable.
Sic semper racistus.

December 02, 2007 7:33 PM  

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