About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Jim Watson, trouble as usual

Dr. Watson (the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, not Sherlock Holmes' assistant) has done it again. A few years ago he got into trouble for making the comment that there probably is a link between one's skin color and sexual drive (read: blacks are more sexually active). A few years before he had said that – if a gene causing homosexuality were to be discovered – women should have a right to have an abortion, so that they could have grandchildren. Now, while promoting his new autobiography, “Avoid Boring People,” Watson has attracted criticism again for suggesting that Africa is in trouble despite the best efforts from the outside world because Africans are not as bright as other races.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Watson said 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.” Ouch. Of course, Watson's remark is way off in terms of scientific reality: “all our testing” is actually indicating a slight difference in IQ (itself a very controversial measure of the nebulous concept of intelligence) between blacks and Caucasians, but is saying pretty much nothing of interest about the causes of such difference. Indeed, African-American scores have substantially improved in past decades, if anything indicating that at least part of the gap is cultural, not genetic, in nature.

Moreover, we also know from the burgeoning field of phenotypic plasticity (the technical term for gene-environment interactions) that even if there were genetic differences in a given trait between populations, changes in the environment can still erase them, or improve the scores of everyone – which means that social policies based on the assumption that changing the living conditions of people makes a difference are not at all unreasonable.

The reaction to Watson's comments has been predictably rapid, and often equally stupid. The Telegraph reports that Steven Rose, a neurobiologist at the Open University said that Watson's remarks were “racist” and “genetic nonsense.” They are neither, actually. For a comment to be racist it has to be intended as demeaning of the party receiving it. But it is clear from the interview that Watson released to Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe of the Times that he is convinced that he is simply uttering scientifically-based commonsense (he is not, but it is the intention that counts). Indeed, people who know Watson (I don't, even though the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory is a few miles from Stony Brook University) constantly remark about his concern with helping women and minorities.

Watson's statement is also not technically “genetic nonsense” because it is perfectly possible, in principle, that different groups of humans may be characterized by different genetic bases for cognitive traits, just like it is obviously true that there are genetically-based differences in intelligence among individuals within a given group. It is an empirical question (and a difficult one at that), not a matter of a priori logic. What Watson can be justly reproached for is making an inflammatory comment based on questionable scientific evidence, taking advantage of his position as a Nobel-winning highly credentialed scientist, and possibly in order to generate buzz about his book. Bad, but hardly a capital offense.

Moreover, according to the Telegraph, Koku Adomdza, director of The 1990 Trust, a black equality pressure group, said that Watson should apologize to “Africa and all people of African origin.” It constantly amazes me that people think they have some sort of constitutional right shielding them from offense. Watson's remark was indeed stupid and offensive. Africans and people of African descent can respond to it, ignore it, or have their fun in turn by insulting Watson himself. But a global apology from a private citizen who simply stated his opinion, however unfounded? C'mon, people, don't we have better things to do?

Indeed, the Equality and Human Rights Commission released a statement saying that it was considering Watson's remarks “in full.” And do what? Do we want a world where people do not have a right to utter stupid comments? Because if that's the case, I've got a long list of candidates, beginning with pretty much everything that George W. has said during the last seven years. But the fact is that freedom of speech, which includes the freedom to utter sheer nonsense and to offend people – willingly or not – is as important as truth. Indeed, it is our best chance to find out the truth.

p.s.: The most recent development is that Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has suspended Watson from his administrative responsibilities. I interpret this action to confirm my fears about the sort of hysteria that can be generated by controversial issues. Again, Watson made a silly unsubstantiated claim, but he has the same right as anybody else to say stupid, even offensive, things. He should be challenged, not suspended. The best way to deal with controversial statements is to take them on, not to suppress them.


  1. Bravo, No one deserves to be treated like Cold Spring Harbor Labs is treating Dr. Watson. Cold Spring Harbor will suffer greatly in trying to silence Jim Watson. He deserves to be heard regardless of what the President of Cold Spring Harbor, Bruce Stillman thinks. Maybe the existing president is unaware of the some of the basic concepts of OUR country, one being freedom of speech. Freedom to offend, freedom to annoy, and the freedom to push peoples buttons and maybe even ask unpopular questions. Nowhere is this level of honesty and freedom of speach celebrated more then in New York. This freedom needs to be celebrated and protected by us all. I for one am shocked and refuse to play the PC card like Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has cowardly selected to do. It is a travesty to behave in this manner when you hear something you might not want to address or think about. Nancy Hopkins, the MIT professor demonstrated this to us when at Harvard she had to run from the room when she was exposed to a concept she might not like. Looks to me like Academia has it's head so far in the sand that a personnel view is no longer acceptable, whether you agree with it or not.

  2. Massimo and all,
    While I agree that his position at Cold Spring Harbor labs should not be threatened, I think you are being to generous on his ignorance and in not thinking he is a bit racist. (as opposed to "a racist")

    Also, shouldn't we expect a scientist of Watson's caliber to be a little more educated on the complexities of heratability of intelligence and IQ? Especially if he is going to go shooting off his mouth about it?

    After all, we as a society, and the scientific community have been through these topics for quite awhile. He should at least have a basic a grasp of the scientific issues around this topic. Unless his confirmation bias is tainted by racism?

    "It constantly amazes me that people think they have some sort of constitutional right shielding them from offense."

    I fail to see how asking for an apology is the same as thinking one has a right to not be offended? This seems to not be the first time you have confused the issue about the right to free speech, and the response to that speech Massimo.

    And now a second thought and question. Being that Watson was is in an administrative position, it now seems a legitimate concern that his judgement would be questionable in evaluating subordinates who are of African descent. After all, he is also quoted as saying:

    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”.

    Hmmm...? Maybe there is something we don't know? Maybe there has been a previous complaint about Watson's evaluation and promotion of subordinates, and his superiors are rightly moving to cover their asses?

  3. Yeah, typical Watson. He likes to stir it all up no matter what, just see his non-technical books...

    Now, I think it is right that people raise an uproar. I just think they don't do it right. Probably because they are not competent and/or interested in really doing it. Yes, his statements have to be challenged, not by just crying foul and throwing a temper tantrum, but by showing that he is technically wrong to begin with. But who has time for boring scientific stuff, eh?

    I mean, who cares about the truth? If it does not support people's political positions, they ignore it, or call it "Nazi" or "Communist" or whatever. I don't think we could even reasonably test whether an ethnic group is more "this" than that other group (not to mention the validity of "ethnic groups" to begin with!), or whether women are worse at "that" than men, or vice versa. The variables are so many and so impossible to isolate, that you probably can't really do it. But as Massimo says, what we can do plus historical progress indicate the differences are not biological, most probably. And even if there are some, we are flexible enough to improve -- or waste or potential.

    What annoys me is the crucification (sorry) of those who dare saying it might be possible that some difference exists.

  4. If IQ tests were redesigned, some other race would come out looking inferior. If the term "race" were redefined one or another race would come out looking inferior. IQ is pretty hokey anyhow. Nobody knows what it means.

  5. "What annoys me is the crucification (sorry) of those who dare saying it might be possible that some difference exists."
    The difference is cultural not intellectual.

    If seven generations of your people were just pigeonholed into taking orders, the ability to make productive and longterm, preventative-maintainable type decisions becomes weaker and weaker. Anyone, under the right environment, conditioning or what have you can break out of that way of funtioning. But I don't believe that most thinking people really consider African Americans to have lower intellects.

    Two AA couples were good friends of ours when we lived near DFW and our kids were toddlers. One couple was living in that area because he was in the military. I thought that they were average or slightly better than av. intelligence,(just like us, basically) lots of fun. The mommy of the two little kids that my kids played with, walked around with a belt around her neck , willing to spank anyone who needed it. Any of our four kids and maybe even the neighbor kids or their two rots who tended to want to eat up the air conditioner in the back yard!! Hilarious. Probably just the absolute funnest times of our lives, really!

    The other AA couple, we and several other couples, we all hung out together. They were beyond exceptional in both education and intellect. She was a school teacher (super sweet and kind) he worked for TI. I am sure that they surpassed all the rest of us in both education and intellect.

    My sense is that Watson says such things because he has not had close and meaningful relationships with anyone who is African-American

    Too bad for him. Life's too short to only live amongst those that you think you have things in common with.

    Open minded scientists? Where?


  6. "The difference is cultural not intellectual."

    Wow Cal,
    You get through most of your message saying some very thoughtful things. Then you blow it with this snarky remark:

    "Open minded scientists? Where?"

    All over the place. Part of being "open minded" is not neccessarily to let any old thing fall in, but to carefully evaluate data and info.. And also to question one's assumptions and biases.

    Don't slander scientists as not being open minded based on Watson's remarks.

  7. Actually the problem with Watson is also cultural: the white upper class of which he is a member allows him to speculate freely on the subject of race, instinctively knowing there is no one in his culture of similar class and stature who can respond by taking "their fun in turn by insulting Watson himself". Any response of that kind by a "lesser person" will be instantly detected as "PC" by the mavens of Watson's culture, and will be crushed under a metaphorical truckload of mockery.

    People can and do say whatever they want, but when statements are given under the mantle of authority to secret cheers, and response is mocked ("C'mon, people, don't we have better things to do?"), we aren't on the road to anybody's truth.

  8. Christine,

    I disagree:

    "Any response of that kind by a 'lesser person' will be instantly detected as 'PC' by the mavens of Watson's culture."

    I don't see why. And besides, people of Watson's own "culture" can (and do) respond. Notice that I started out the post by saying in no uncertain terms that Watson is wrong.

    "People can and do say whatever they want, but when statements are given under the mantle of authority to secret cheers, and response is mocked, we aren't on the road to anybody's truth."

    Again, Watson doesn't have any political authority, though of course he has scientific recognition (they are far from being the same thing, last time I checked). And all I was doing was criticize the all-too common attitude that whenever biology and race appear in the same sentence people freak out. They shouldn't. Freaking out is not a rational response. Taking Watson to task for getting the science spectacularly wrong is much more effective than chastising him for being racist.

  9. "Don't slander scientists as not being open minded based on Watson's remarks."


    He's a leader in his field, Sheldon. That is rather serious. One would think he would have enough common sense to not follow the JUNK EUGENICS SCIENCE of Margret Sanger.

    One would also think that other so-called "modern" scientists would not follow her ideas either. Yet, a scientist is considered summarily "open minded" if he/she happens to support Planned Parenthood. One can only be so open-minded before one effectively ruins what the concept of open-minded is good for. It sure as heck is not intended to whittle away at the population numbers of ethnically different people than ourselves, is it.

    "How Planned Parenthood Duped America

    At a March 1925 international birth control gathering in New York City, a speaker warned of the menace posed by the "black" and "yellow" peril. The man was not a Nazi or Klansman; he was Dr. S. Adolphus Knopf, a member of Margaret Sanger's American Birth Control League (ABCL), which along with other groups eventually became known as Planned Parenthood.

    Sanger's other colleagues included avowed and sophisticated racists. One, Lothrop Stoddard, was a Harvard graduate and the author of The Rising Tide of Color against White Supremacy. Stoddard was something of a Nazi enthusiast who described the eugenic practices of the Third Reich as "scientific" and "humanitarian." And Dr. Harry Laughlin, another Sanger associate and board member for her group, spoke of purifying America's human "breeding stock" and purging America's "bad strains." These "strains" included the "shiftless, ignorant, and worthless class of antisocial whites of the South."

    Not to be outdone by her followers, Margaret Sanger spoke of sterilizing those she designated as "unfit," a plan she said would be the "salvation of American civilization.: And she also spike of those who were "irresponsible and reckless," among whom she included those " whose religious scruples prevent their exercising control over their numbers." She further contended that "there is no doubt in the minds of all thinking people that the procreation of this group should be stopped." That many Americans of African origin constituted a segment of Sanger considered "unfit" cannot be easily refuted.

    While Planned Parenthood's current apologists try to place some distance between the eugenics and birth control movements, history definitively says otherwise. The eugenic theme figured prominently in the Birth Control Review, which Sanger founded in 1917. She published such articles as "Some Moral Aspects of Eugenics" (June 1920), "The Eugenic Conscience" (February 1921), "The purpose of Eugenics" (December 1924), "Birth Control and Positive Eugenics" (July 1925), "Birth Control: The True Eugenics" (August 1928), and many others."
    cont @...


  10. Cal, Off on a non-related rant again. Your first post on this subject was, as Sheldon remarked, thoughtful and succinct, but the Planned Parenthood diatribe is out of place and ridiculaous in the present context. It is just another attempt at proselytizing for your extreme fundementalist point of view and adds nothing to the discussion (as do these comments, but I just had to get them off my chest).

    Stick to the point and maybe more of your posts will be met with some consideration, if not approval.

  11. There can be bad reasons for favoring birth control, and there can be bad reasons for opposing it. I once had a conversation with a left-wing radical (self-described maoist) who opposed birth control for the population of South America, because it would deprive the workers of troops at some future date. This was around the same time that the Pope was squelching priestly opposition to birth control. None of it had anything to do with overpopulation or quality of life for the children involved.

  12. I meant "priestly opposition to Vatican birth control policies"

    Someday I will learn to read what I have written.

  13. Sorry Massimo, I have to disagree with you as well.

    There is such a thing as culpable ignorance. When someone with Watson's stature and obvious intelligence says incredibly stupid things about things he *ought* to know about, something is very wrong. Is Watson a racist? Well, that depends on what you mean. You suggest that "For a comment to be racist it has to be intended as demeaning of the party receiving it." This strikes me as way too narrow. For a comment to be a deliberate racist insult, that is perhaps correct, but for it to be racist? No, there it "merely" (it seems to me) need cast factually inaccurate and morally important aspersions on "races".

    In other words, it is not, and cannot be, the "intentions that count." People that sincerely believe in the mental/moral/etc inferiority of other people *often* claim that they want to help them, provide them with the sorts of opportunities they can handle, etc. That doesn't make them into non-racists. Insofar as people believe these things on the basis of bad and/or insufficient evidence, it makes them racists of a different sort than those who also go on to *hate* the other races, etc., but that's a different issue.

    And I'm with Rose on it being "genetic nonsense" -- we agree that it is in principle *possible* that there might be genetically distinct populations of humans that differ genetically in some psychological way. But "africa" is not a genetically homogeneous population of people, no matter how you cut it. And it does seem to me to be racist nonsense to hit on one very broad shared phenotypic feature (darkish skin) and assume that there is an underlying genetic similarity that might extend towards important psychological traits. That is "possible" only in the most absurd sense of the word.

    And, while I want to see more details, I am sympathetic to suspending Watson from his administrative duties. As far as I can tell, he is not being punished academically for this (nor, btw, was Larry Summers punished as an academic -- he could have kept his tenured, very-well paying academic position at Harvard had he wished to -- he was let go as President -- an administrative job), so it isn't, it seems to me, "just" a free speech issue. You simply can't effectively head up a large organization in a diverse nation if you go around saying stupid things about 'race' and/or 'sex.' Even if Watson is scrupulously fair in e.g. hiring and promotion matters, his comments give the appearance that he can't be, and that's enough to undermine the necessary trust in the institution.

    Given the truly *trivial* amount of research necessary to demonstrate that claims of the sort Watson made are not well-supported by current evidence, and given his stature and fame, I'm disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Jonathan Kaplan

  14. Cal,
    For crying out loud! you moved from the subject of Watson to making a broad non-sequitor generalization about scientists:

    "Open minded scientists? Where?

    So don't be a weasal and pretend you didn't!

    "He's a leader in his field, Sheldon. That is rather serious...."

    Obviously you didn't read the second post in the thread when I criticized Massimo for cutting him too much slack, I said:

    "Also, shouldn't we expect a scientist of Watson's caliber to be a little more educated on the complexities of heratability of intelligence and IQ? Especially if he is going to go shooting off his mouth about it?"

    Cal said:
    "One would think he would have enough common sense to not follow the JUNK EUGENICS SCIENCE of Margret Sanger."

    Actually, there was no discussion that I am aware of about eugenics in all of this. Watson simply made two errors. A. to assume the validity of the concept of race, and B. to assert that people of African descent are intellectually inferior.

    Of course, you did this so you could preach to us about the alleged evils of contraception and abortion. Another non-sequitor.

    News flash. It simply doesn't matter today that early advocates of family planning may have had racist assumptions and motivations. (if true?)

    These services allow women of all "races" and ethnic backgrounds to control their own reproductive life.

    In case you haven't noticed, lots of white upper middle class women also seem to enjoy controlling how many babies they have.

  15. "You simply can't effectively head up a large organization in a diverse nation if you go around saying stupid things....."

    Well you can if you are president of the whole damn country! But that is a different story. And you did say "effectively."

    Excellent points by Jonathan Kaplan

  16. Hi Jonathan,

    thanks for the post. As Sheldon says, you make several very good and thoughtful points. However, my bottom line is that I think defense of free speech ought to be absolute. Any departure from that (such as Canadian and German "hate speech" laws) puts us on a slippery slope that I really don't want to go down to.

    The demarcation line is at action, not speech. If anyone, Nobel or not, does engage in sexist or racist or whataver-ist behavior, then s/he ought to be stopped. However, it is chilling that even a Nobel-prize winning scientist can lose his job because he made a stupid remark in public, on an occasion that had nothing to do whatsowever with his job.

    btw, if you read the actual interview in the Times, conducted by a woman who was a former associate at the Lab, you will come out with a bit more of a complete picture of Watson. He's a complex character, not easy to totally like or hate.

    Finally, it positively annoys me that we liberals keep using double standards in these situations: we cry murder for a single comment by an old white guy, but we say very little about the inflammatory and positively misoginistic and racist lyrics of much rap music, for instance. And don't tell me that rappers don't have actual power, they influence people a hell of a lot more than any James Watson can ever aspire to.

  17. Sheldon has outrage: "For crying out loud! you moved from the subject of Watson to making a broad non-sequitor generalization about scientists:

    "Open minded scientists? Where?

    So don't be a weasal and pretend you didn't.."

    I didn't pretend I didn't. You misinterpreted the context of what you just quoted.

    So quit howling and ranting, Sheldon. I can PROMISE you that Mr. Watson has undoubtedly heard of eugenics theories. Prove to me that he did not use that line of reasoning to come to a particular conclusion. I think that he did.

    The problem was not so much that Watson said what said, but that he made wrong use of the data. We can see that most of the third (fourth world) countries, which happen to be African, are in terrible shape. Totally run over by corruption and some have these incredibly high stats for HIV and AIDS. That might tend to make one feel that given a lot of responsibilities, most Africans can't think too far into the future to stop what is essentially killing them. Here or abroad. Thing is, there are countries that are not African, who have huge corruption issues. In Italy and some Soviet countries
    the black market and organized crime are huge. And the people groups in those countries a more educated bunch. But the pop. in general is not desiring enough to fight "the mob" to get it out of their country. The mentality, I think, is status quo-ish, until it affects "me".

    The Africans, here or abroad, are not the only ones who do totally self-defeating, destructive (unintelligent) things to their own people and way of life.

    Maybe Mr. Watson could spend some time evaluating why anyone accepts corruption around them at all. That is always an interesting topic for study.

    Massimo's just glad he came here, where he can figure out which ONE guy to place the blame for the corruption in the country on.

    I was amazed yesterday to find out that the war in Iraq (and essentially the pres) made the fires in SoCal become much worse and un-containable. It is hilarious to realize some people can establish such a conclusion and actually think that it makes sense.

    At least we now know why wildfires really happen.


  18. So, organised crime isn't a problem is Bush's utopia, Cal?
    And I still want you to tell me which scientists aren't open-minded.

  19. And, hey um, Sheldon, let us assume that even we can think into the future (a little bit).

    Why don't you, before you have a tantrum at me again, google the name "Jim Watson" and the term "Eugenics".

    I had never done it before. But just found out that he is extremely interested in eugenics.


  20. "So, organised crime isn't a problem is Bush's utopia, Cal?"

    Love Marxism? Move somewhere that it actually works, Kimpat. Oh, wait, there is no where that Marxism works, is there.

    And who has ever been thrown into the bottom of lake with his feet stuck in concrete in Bushes admin? You may have explain what org. crime is to you.

    My guess is that his party is (a) in control and that (b) sometimes he seems to get his way.

    I have to go to a funeral. Laters.

  21. Hey Massimo,

    Good points, as usual. I agree that defense of free speech ought to be "absolute" and that the German and Canadian hate speech laws are a very, very bad idea.

    But your point that "The demarcation line is at action, not speech" is, as you know, complex. I'm with Hume here, that there is a difference between shouting "corn dealers are starvers of the pooor" outside the corn-dealers house to the starving unruly mod and saying it in a calmer political forum. But even more to the point, when you are talking about someone who is the administrative head of an organization, then speech *is* action -- you can't say "people who work w/ blacks know they aren't equal" and say it is "just speech" if part of your job involves managing -- including potentially making hiring, firing, and promotion decision about -- people of color. The implication to such comments, certainly, is that Watson will be less sensitive to statistical anomalies in such decisions that he might otherwise be.

    "He's a complex character, not easy to totally like or hate." I agree -- the full interview does paint a more complex picture.

    "Finally, it positively annoys me that we liberals keep using double standards in these situations: we cry murder for a single comment by an old white guy, but we say very little about the inflammatory and positively misoginistic and racist lyrics of much rap music, for instance. And don't tell me that rappers don't have actual power, they influence people a hell of a lot more than any James Watson can ever aspire to."

    But influence isn't the same as power. And one can loath misogynistic rap lyrics, and the people who write them, while recognizing that it *is* free speech. Insofar as these people have administrative roles that require that they work w/women who are in subordinate positions w/in those organizations, then yes, they should be fired from those roles.

    Similarly, I, for one, think it quite reasonable that Ward Churchill was asked to step down as chair of his Department -- you can't be an effective chair, lead fund-raising, etc., if you are mired in controversy. HOWEVER, *firing* him from his academic position, and more generally using his controversial remarks as a reason to persecute him academically, was, I think, quite another matter, and a terrible crime against academic freedom and free speech more generally.

    You are clearly right that there is a double standard at work in key places surrounding the freedom to offend. While I think that freedom ought to be absolute, I do think that it can (obviously) be misused, and that people in position of power and/or members of groups that have traditionally been over-represented in positions of power have a greater responsibility to try not to misuse that freedom that members of less - well - represented groups. Again, failing to fulfill that responsibility should not carry legal penalties. But failing to be effective at your job is another matter...

    And Sheldon, yes, Bush has said a lot of incredibly stupid things. But no, he isn't an effective leader. Alas, there is no one in a position of power willing to fire him for this.

    Jonathan Kaplan

  22. Cal,
    My outrage was due to something very specific. You moving from the subject of Watson, to slandering through innuendo, snarky remarks, and broad genralization.

    Also, you scolded me in implying that I did not understand your point, when in fact I made a similar point in the first place. That is very annoying.

    You do things like this constantly, interjecting remarks that really don't have much to do with the discussion at hand. And you argue very dishonestly.

    So Watson, is interested in eugenics? Ok I will concede that point, it is probably true and consistent with his other remarks. So what?

    My statement still stands on its merits. Margaret Sanger may indeed have been motivated by racism and a policy of eugenics. Yet, there is not a problem of ethnic groups or "races" approaching extiction or having dwindling numbers due to contraception.

    It doesn't matter what Sanger's motivations were. All women, but especially poor women in the third world, are empowered by access to contraception and abortion services. Period.

  23. For those readers of this blog who may be too young to remember, this issue arose relative to another distinguished Nobel Prize winning scientist some 35 years ago, namely the late William Shockley, a professor of physics at Stanford Un. and developer of the transistor. Prof. Shockley wrote a number of articles maintaining that blacks were inferior to Caucasians; there were furious calls for the university to fire Prof. Shockley which were rightly rejected. However, the situations were rather different as between Prof. Shockley and Dr. Watson. Prof. Shockley was a tenured professor in the Stanford physics department while Dr. Watson is president of a private laboratory. Both of them did have in common total incompetence in the science of genetics.

  24. Watson may have many flaws, but "total incompetence in the science of genetics" isn't one of them, given the fact that his discovery of DNA invented modern genetics.

  25. Hello Professor,

    I have long been a silent reader of your blog and I have enjoyed your writing a great deal. I have also recently (in the last 3 months) become an avid reader of Gene Expression*.

    Not being an expert myself, I am flummoxed. On the one side there are a lot of people denouncing Watson as scientifically ignorant while Razib and his cohorts at Gene Expression write about new research published in scientific journals incredibly frequently that seem to take the validity of intelligence testing for granted. How can people accuse Watson of being ignorant of the scientific literature when there are all these new papers coming out constantly? Do people expect Watson not to read them despite his predisposition towards genetic explanations?

    Is Razib really so far outside of mainstream genetics? (I know his political opinions differ significantly from those of most of his detractors, but that is all)

    Thanks for any enlightenment you can provide!

    www.scienceblogs.com/gnxp and www.gnxp.com

  26. Kyle,

    thanks for your post. Your question is a perfet example of what is wrong with this controversy. Here's the bottom line:

    Watson is certainly not ignorant of genetic, in the sense of so-called "transmission genetics" and fundamental molecular biology. After all, he discovered the structure of dna and headed the first human genome project.

    However, Watson is incredibly ignorant of quantitative genetics, the statistical discipline used to calculate heritabilities of human cognitive traits. There is not a shred of convincing evidence that there are genetic differences in intelligence (whatever that is) between human populations, and heritability is a well-known and hopelessly flawed measure of genetic inheritance. Razib is simply wrong, probably for ideological reasons.

    Hope this helps!


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