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Smart Man With Foot, Head in Wrong Places
October 17, 2007 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Something of a wild man - James Watson, the Nobel-Prize-winning DNA researcher, has made some (more) provocative remarks. 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".

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "These comments serve as a reminder of the attitudes which can still exists at the highest professional levels."
posted by Kirth Gerson (130 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, that's a career-ender.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:29 AM on October 17, 2007


But you have to hand it to them, they are a much more musical people.
posted by jonson at 10:30 AM on October 17, 2007 [4 favorites]


Old guy gets crotchety, runs mouth. Film at 11.
posted by jquinby at 10:32 AM on October 17, 2007


Makes me think of Shockley, another Nobel laureate who said some really stupid crap about race later in his career.
posted by octothorpe at 10:35 AM on October 17, 2007


This kind of thing has always ended well.
posted by PlusDistance at 10:36 AM on October 17, 2007


So how does he feel about women in science?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:36 AM on October 17, 2007 [9 favorites]


There is a natural desire that all human beings should be equal, but people who have to deal with black employees crusty old bigots find this not true.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:38 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Not so surprising for anyone who's encountered Dr. Watson. He's incapable of shutting his mouth and not saying any damn fool thing that flies into his head.
posted by desuetude at 10:39 AM on October 17, 2007



I wonder if he designed these tests of which he speaks.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:39 AM on October 17, 2007


These comments serve as a reminder of the attitudes which can still exists

LOLCATS in Parliament!
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:40 AM on October 17, 2007


Obviously black people can't be as clever as Watson, who won the nobel prize for going down the hall, stealing his colleagues data and then using it to figure out the structure of DNA...


not saying he wasn't smart, but the guy has always and will always be a prick
posted by slapshot57 at 10:40 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


That's unfortunate. This is going to end up in the arsenal of those claiming that belief in evolution = genocide/holocaust.
posted by agentofselection at 10:41 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's an established fact that poor nutrition and exposure to certain diseases in children impede the development of the brain. As such, I wouldn't actually be very surprised to learn that the statistical average intelligence in sub-Saharan Africa is below that of North America.

But it wouldn't have anything to do with genetics.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:41 AM on October 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


I am also "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa," Asia, Europe, Australia, the Americas, and the rest of the populated planet, because "all our social policies are based on the fact that" their intelligence is the same as ours [common] – "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 [other people] find this not true".

Edited for truth.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 10:43 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


kittens for breakfast - If Rosalind Franklin were still around I would love to hear what she had to say about the subject.
posted by kscottz at 10:43 AM on October 17, 2007


Watson is a dick, furthermore he's proud to be a dick and ultimately doesn't mean any harm. Except if it concerns the woman whose work led directly to the discovery of the double helix theory of DNA and who was never properly credited...you know cos she was woman and Jewish so Watson and Crick, ambitious buggers that they were just stole her work outright: Rosalind Franklin.
posted by Skygazer at 10:44 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


I wasn't talking about people with a slightly below-average IQ," he points out. "I was talking about the bottom 10% who have severe learning difficulties. If someone's liver doesn't work, we blame it on the genes; if someone's brain doesn't work properly, we blame the school. It's actually more humane to think of the condition as genetic.
So he considers that some behavior and outcome of behavior can be caused primarily by a genetic combination. Oh well, go prove it , but it could make some sense.
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.
Agreed , often we prefer to look after facts that prove our theory and disregard facts that make it weaker.

Can't find the quotes about blacks, homosexuals, catholic , freepers and mefites !
posted by elpapacito at 10:45 AM on October 17, 2007


Critical thinking, please.

I can't see why we should assume that all ethnic groups should have identically distributed cognitive abilities. At least in principle, it's not impossible that some groups could be, well, smarter than others. And it's not in itself racist to examine this possibility. (Certainly, racists might use such a finding, but should that stop free enquiry?)

As a look at the Olympic sprint or marathon lineup will tell you, ethnicity does seem to correlate to some other kinds of abilities.

However, Watson's claims don't seem to be supported by the evidence, either. It's almost impossible to devise experiments that separate cultural effects from genetic factors here. The burden of proof is on Watson, and he fails to provide it.

Furthermore, Watson's claim falls down in a big way. If he claims Africa's prospects are bad because of their low IQ (purported to be in the 80s), how is it that that this was the average American IQ in the early 20th century?

"...half of the children in 1932 would be classified as having borderline mental retardation or worse in 1997."

I guess that's why America was such a backwards, undeveloped place in those days.
posted by Bletch at 10:45 AM on October 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


In the future, I'm sure we will be able to look back at Watson's personal genome sequence and see a massive overrepresentation of the gene for douchebaggery.
posted by Hutch at 10:49 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


It's not his fault. The scientific evidence is clear that white people are genetically predisposed towards racism.
posted by designbot at 10:51 AM on October 17, 2007 [5 favorites]


So how does he feel about women in science?

Blinded, no doubt.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:53 AM on October 17, 2007


Nobel-Prize-winning DNA researcher please.
posted by ND¢ at 10:58 AM on October 17, 2007 [6 favorites]


There is no accounting for stupidity. One can forgive ignorance, but when Watson, who calls himself a "scientist" ignores clear data showing serious problems with ranking people fron IQ or "general intelligence" quotients - one has to wonder about Watson's scientific rigor, or state of mind. Frankly, I think he's gone senile, and his statements should be traeted as such.

If he's still able, Watson should read some of Jared Diamond's stuff, and brush up on general ethnology.

Intelligence tests are just now being shown for the *partial* analysis of whole intelligence that they are. There is no doubt that intelligence testing is heavily influenced by environment, and that one can "train" to improve a score on an intelligence test.

Watson should also avail himself of the late, great Stephen Jay Gould's work

What a sad way for Watson to undermine his legacy. His opinions are a drag on valid science; he does our human no favor.
posted by MetaMan at 10:59 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


At least in principle, it's not impossible that some groups could be, well, smarter than others. And it's not in itself racist to examine this possibility. (Certainly, racists might use such a finding, but should that stop free enquiry?)

Why should we begin this line of enquiry in the first place? What useful purpose would it serve?
posted by creasy boy at 11:01 AM on October 17, 2007


What intelligence based social policy is he talking about anyway?
posted by srboisvert at 11:01 AM on October 17, 2007


I read an article in a magazine at the doctor's office yesterday that says old people actually lose their ability to censor their own speech -- the section of the brain that controls it shrinks with age.

Therefore crusty old asshole like Watson (The R. Franklin thing cheeses me off...) spouting off at the mouth is only natural, too. Unfortunately.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:02 AM on October 17, 2007



So how does he feel about women in science?

Horny?
posted by tkchrist at 11:08 AM on October 17, 2007


eugenics, in the very worst way, imho
posted by infini at 11:10 AM on October 17, 2007


Yeah, that's pretty awful. It's a bit much to say that he has put his foot in his mouth, or that he's saying "any damn fool thing", he clearly believes those things sincerely, and came up with it through some thought process.

So, it would not be a good idea to just excuse it. This guy has decided align himself quite directly with modern racists like the KKK and so on, and there really is no getting around it.

As far as the accuracy of his statements go, they are quite silly. Whether or not there is a differential has nothing really to do with the state of Africa, after all it's not that much different from Europe 100 years ago, and the average African probably has much better prospects then a European 65-70 years ago in terms of not getting killed.

What we consider "Western Civilization", in terms of providing safety and security for people is only a few decades old. I think it's unlikely that Europe went through any major genetic changes in those two generations, so clearly something other then genetics controls this outcome.

What African countries need is political stability, so that people feel like they can invest rather then simply trying to take. There are a lot of other things too, education, literacy programs, etc.

The effect of education on IQ is far, far greater then any measured difference between any ethnic groups.

After all, we wouldn't blame a guy's liver problem on his DNA if he drank himself to sleep every night.
posted by delmoi at 11:11 AM on October 17, 2007


Furthermore, Watson's claim falls down in a big way. If he claims Africa's prospects are bad because of their low IQ (purported to be in the 80s), how is it that that this was the average American IQ in the early 20th century?

Ah! Sure we were dumb. But our "Greedy Asshole Quotient" was particularly high!

I agree with you though that there is no reason to assume that cognitive function is in no way related to genetics.
posted by tkchrist at 11:12 AM on October 17, 2007


Maybe we should take away his Nobel. Gore gets a pile of grief he doesn't deserve, so why not take away Watson's prize for stupid shit like this?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:12 AM on October 17, 2007


Why should we begin this line of enquiry in the first place?

Why not?
posted by Bletch at 11:17 AM on October 17, 2007



Why should we begin this line of enquiry in the first place? What useful purpose would it serve?


You mean "inquiry?"

Well, I'd like to know if I and my children have certain cognitive genetic predispositions so they can maybe fixed, wouldn't you?

The problem is with the loaded term "intelligence."

There is whole lot going on in the brain... a number of processes and functions... that all serve a variety of possible behaviors but it depends on social context and environments as to them being 'positive' or negative.'
posted by tkchrist at 11:18 AM on October 17, 2007


What we consider "Western Civilization", in terms of providing safety and security for people is only a few decades old.

Oh. Boy. Are you over reaching here.
posted by tkchrist at 11:19 AM on October 17, 2007


Why should we begin this line of enquiry in the first place? What useful purpose would it serve?

Um, come on. I agree it's probably not true in any meaningful sense, but surely there a lots of valid purposes. Say the research shouldn't happen because we don't understand what intelligence is, sure. But don't say it shouldn't happen because we might not like the answers, or there's no use for them.
posted by freebird at 11:22 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


My experience working with black people is that they are just as smart as I am. But, note the name. Who am I to judge?
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:24 AM on October 17, 2007


So. What IF we find out in a hundred years that the mean cognitive abilities and behaviors of humans IS largely genetic - of far more influenced by genes that we thought. That we could have geared educational institutions and treatments to deal with this disparity before and helped more people. Essentially we could be thoughtlessly discriminating now and only THINK we are being fair.
posted by tkchrist at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I think he's wrong that there's "a natural desire that all human beings should be equal." I think the natural desire is just the opposite. I think the desire for equality is learned, and is by no means universal.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2007


In 2003, the 50th anniversary of Watson and Crick's discovery of the structure of DNA, the university I was working at was planning events to celebrate the anniversary. At the meeting my department had to discuss what (if anything) we should do, someone shouted out, "Can we just celebrate Crick's half?"

That pretty much sums up my feelings about Watson. He did some good scientist, but he's so arrogant and has said so many racist and sexist things that I feel like no one should take him seriously anymore.
posted by pombe at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2007


err, good science
posted by pombe at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2007


I would like an example of one useful purpose that would be served by investigating which ethnic groups are on average more cognitively able than others. tkchrist, if certain individual deficits are fixable, then of course this is a valid field for research. But what do we gain be comparing average intelligence quotients across ethnic lines?

Let's say it gets proven that, say, Eskimos are bad at math. To what use would we put this information? Would we fund less math education for Eskimos? Is this justice? If an Eskimo applied for a math position at MIT, would this not reflect negatively upon her? The information would sow dissent and be of absolutely no good use. Because when the Eskimo applies for a math position, the only way to tell how good of a mathematician she is is to look at her math...the average intelligence of the Eskimo population says nothing about her. Yet it would, in reality, reflect negatively upon her in our perceptions.
posted by creasy boy at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2007


What an old freak he has become. Tragic, really. And ugly.
posted by spitbull at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2007


This just proves you can be intelligent in one aspect of life and a total idiot/douchebag in the rest.
posted by estronaut at 11:29 AM on October 17, 2007


> Why should we begin this line of enquiry in the first place? What useful purpose would it serve?

In general we don't get to know that before we actually pursue the line of inquiry and find out what's down that road. Roentgen wasn't looking for x-rays; Fleming wasn't looking for penicillin. Columbus was looking for India.
posted by jfuller at 11:30 AM on October 17, 2007 [3 favorites]


Maybe we should take away his Nobel. Gore gets a pile of grief he doesn't deserve, so why not take away Watson's prize for stupid shit like this?

Because Gore has nothing to do with Watson and because the relative intelligence of Africans has nothing to do with the work for which Watson was honored?

So, it would not be a good idea to just excuse it. This guy has decided align himself quite directly with modern racists like the KKK and so on, and there really is no getting around it.

Oh, there's nothing modern about his comments. But it's hyperbole to suggest that anyone with despicable attitudes about race are aligning themselves with organizations devoted to the active spread of hate.

I'm not apologizing for his statements -- he's said a lot of things that have pissed me off, about science, women, race, research, and more. But I don't think that feeding his rather sad need for attention! is worthwhile. (He does run off his mouth in general, too.)
posted by desuetude at 11:31 AM on October 17, 2007


Ugh. I had the misfortune to endure a speech by Watson once. He insulted graduate students, liberal arts colleges and Linus Pauling - all before the talk actually began.

Some people have no character at all.
posted by rdc at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2007


"Watson, come here. I want you" to shut up.

This is an idiotic statement, and the subject merits no scientific inquiry. Anyone in the US who has met an African immigrant will realize in seconds that Africa's problems are with its governments and institutions. Not the people.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:32 AM on October 17, 2007


I don't think you can blame Watson's verbal diarrhea on his age. he has been spouting doggerel for quite some time. From what I can glean from him by reading his first book and reading about him in different sources I'd say it was 90% luck he was in on the double helix discovery (and hence the Nobel) and perhaps 10% intelligence. (well that and a little theft of course) He happened to be at the right place at the right time. Any moderately bright grad student in the right field being there at that time would have filled his shoes as well if not better.

At this stage I suspect Watson is looking for attention (as he does from time to time) and is being a complete ass about it in the process.
posted by edgeways at 11:35 AM on October 17, 2007


finally, pombe explains how watson got rosalind's data.
posted by nomisxid at 11:36 AM on October 17, 2007


All people who do not look like me are stupid.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:39 AM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mr. Watson, come here, I need to tell you to fuck off.
posted by aerotive at 11:40 AM on October 17, 2007


You know when you have a favorite band, and they have a couple of perfects albums, but then they just keep going, and start putting out worse and worse records, and eventually become parodies of themselves, and you think "If they'd only broken up after that first perfect record, they'd be legends"?
posted by gwint at 11:42 AM on October 17, 2007


I would like an example of one useful purpose that would be served by investigating which ethnic groups are on average more cognitively able than others.

Surely this data would simply be a by-product of collecting data on cognitive ability in general. Presumably, running comparison tests on all the variables in your data set is just one of those things that researchers do, given that it's as easy as pushing a button nowadays.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:42 AM on October 17, 2007


creasy boy, I think the point of knowing a certain group of people don't learn Math well under the current method would mean taking the time to study how to effectively teach them, not just give up. When we figured out dyslexia was a reason why some people seemed less smart than they actually were, we didn't just say "well, sucks to be you". We came up with ways for those people to learn too. Ignoring the reasons behind a problem, because you don't like the problem, doesn't fix anything.
posted by nomisxid at 11:43 AM on October 17, 2007 [5 favorites]


That we could have geared educational institutions and treatments to deal with this disparity before and helped more people.

Exactly. I'm absolutely sure that if we could prove there are genetic differences in intelligence between "ethnicities" and "races" (whatever those are biologically), what we learn would be only used for good, with there being just barely a non-zero chance that it would be used to harm innocent people. Similar to how the Area Denial weapon will only be used to harm the bad and help the good.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:46 AM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


nomisxid: OK, so let's say it's not the Eskimos who turn out to be bad at math, but Hispanics. You say that this research could mean "taking the time to study how to effectively teach them, not just give up". So in a high school in Brooklyn, would we institude special math classes for all Hispanics? Even for the Hispanic kid who happens to be a math whiz? Or just for the Hispanic kids who seem to be struggling with math? But then what about the black, white, Eskimo, and all other kids struggling with math? They stay in the regular classes? How would this work?

You still have to look at the child in particular to figure out how to help the child. For it to even be an option in someone's mind to appeal to a racial average of intelligence in order to explain the deficits or abilities of a particular child would represent a grave injustice -- perpetrated on a systematic level.

Yes, Peter McDermott and jfuller, the data might emerge as a byproduct of other studies. So be it. I have no problem with "other research" in the abstract. But there's no reason to launch a defence of 'free enquiry' (and I mean to spell it with an 'e') when people mention these comparisons of expressed intelligence across racial lines.
posted by creasy boy at 11:52 AM on October 17, 2007


White people choose who they breed with based on intelligence? Not the ones I've met.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:55 AM on October 17, 2007


This is the best thing I've read on the heritability of IQ. The take away point is that the data we have is very weak and rather unconvincing and that of course environmental factors play a huge role.
posted by afu at 11:55 AM on October 17, 2007


HAI HE HAS NOBLE PRIZE SO HE SHOULD KNO, OK? SHOW ME YOUR NOBLE PRIZE OH WAIT HAHA YOU DONT HAV ONE!
posted by sourwookie at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2007


"Watson is a dick, furthermore he's proud to be a dick and ultimately doesn't mean any harm. Except if it concerns the woman whose work led directly to the discovery of the double helix theory of DNA and who was never properly credited...you know cos she was woman and Jewish so Watson and Crick, ambitious buggers that they were just stole her work outright.."

And, you, skygazer, sound like a lazy, credulous fool - as do others here - for regurgitating that crap.

I think Watson's latest comments are nasty, brutish and stupid. And that he deserves to be ridiculed for them.

However, get your frigging facts right.

Rosalind Franklin was properly credited for her contribution to C and W's discovery. Look at the original, all-important DNA structure paper. Her credit is there. Watson and Crick knew her work was very important and said so unambiguously at the time and right from the start.

It was Watson's feebly ungallant retrospective remarks about Franklin in his book, "The Double Helix" that started the "she wuz robbed" backlash. He later withdrew those comments and apologized for them - saying they were a hideous mistake.

Read the Brenda Maddox biography of Franklin. Maddox is a proper scholar - and a feminist. Maddox had justly harsh words, yes, for the sexist culture of science in the 1950s & she doesn't much care for Watson, to put it mildly. But, no, there was no "stealing", according to Maddox.

Maddox wrote: "In ensuing decades, the myth of the wronged heroine has grown, nourished by the fact of Rosalind's early death. Rosalind Franklin has become the symbol of woman's lowly position in the pantheon of science."

Maddox would have proved the "stealing" charge if she could. She could not. And the whole story of DNA, Crick Watson and Franklin (&the others) is there - and it's a lot more complex and interesting than your inane pile-on.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:58 AM on October 17, 2007 [10 favorites]


Watson should also avail himself of the late, great Stephen Jay Gould's work

Gould should be required reading for anyone who uses "IQ" as a valid measure of intelligence - and that includes several members of the MetaFilter community.
posted by Neiltupper at 12:04 PM on October 17, 2007


I would like an example of one useful purpose that would be served by investigating which ethnic groups are on average more cognitively able than others.

Maybe you'd like to demonstrate systemic inequalities? Your insistence on only looking at individuals doesn't really help with that.

Maybe you'd like to prove scientifically that there ISN'T a real difference in intelligence between ethnic groups once and for all?

Maybe you just respect the need for basic science, done independent of social or philosophical opinion and asumptions?
posted by freebird at 12:08 PM on October 17, 2007


He's just trying to qualify for a Nobel Peace Prize, too.
posted by koeselitz at 12:11 PM on October 17, 2007


freebird: OK, those are three good reasons, which is more than I asked for.

To demonstrate systematic inequalities: you mean, if we prove that Eskimos are not worse at math, and yet are given fewer math positions, then the hiring process must be prejudiced? I suppose I don't envision things working out this neatly. For one thing, there are so many factors at work in this sort of question, I just can't imagine IQ averages being the conclusive proof of systematic inequality. And I imagine much worse consequences outweighing this possibility.

To prove that there is no difference: go ahead. But if you plan to do this, you're biasing your research ahead of time, which brings me to:

To respect the need for basic science independent of social or philosophical opinion and assumptions: not unconditionally I don't. I don't respect a "need" for science in any direction whatsoever. I'm not arguing for a government crackdown on certain researchers, but at the same time I for my part don't have to feel that every possible research programme is worth looking into. I think even using the categories of "race" for in biological research into humans is pointing us in the wrong direction. Science should offer some prospect of potential value to us if it is to be pursued. In fact I would endorse Aristotle's argument that politics is the highest and unconditional science, since, as he says, all other sciences serve certain purposes, but politics examines what we want our purposes to be in the first place. So our reflections on our values inform the activities we pursue and inform the lines of questioning we deem to be of value.
posted by creasy boy at 12:24 PM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


The problem with this thread is that there is far too much speculation and not enough science.

I have just signed the adoption papers for 100 healthy infants, 50 from a small village in Kenya, and 50 from Reykjavik, Iceland. (Costco's other catalog.)

I will randomize the infants and place them in unlabeled wooden boxes equipped with robotic nursemaids, education terminals, treadmills for regular exercise, and feeding tubes. Until the age of 18, they will be brought up free of any possible cultural influence. All their reading material will be carefully purged of reference to race, skin color, or even the concept of color.

Then I will administer double-blind IQ tests to the occupants of all the boxes. I hope to update Metafilter on the progress of this experiment in 2025. I will also be taking bids for my newly formed army of brainwashed assassins.

Ladies and gentlemen, I trust these results will finally settle this important debate once and for all.
posted by Bletch at 12:26 PM on October 17, 2007 [10 favorites]


I learned from Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything that Crick believed in Directed Panspermia. Meaning, that the earth was "seeded" with life by aliens. This from a man with a Nobel Prize.
posted by ORthey at 12:39 PM on October 17, 2007


I'm all for ridiculing this man who brought his point across so disgracefully. But honestly, as a young black man , this is not the first time I have heard this argument--but not stated in this crude fashion. I heard Charlie Rose posit the question to a physicist on his show, and Michael Eric Dyson a well respected black intellectual mentioned "the unspeakable test score gap" in his work. On the merits of this very unpopular research, I say we brave it. I believe the benefits to humanity will outweigh the cost in the long run. We can simply choose to use the information wisely and apply humanistic, compassionate values as we move forward-with Laws and Human rights in mind. Same thing with cloning, cryogenics, stem cell and other controversial science.

Science has been used to justify racism before (Darwinism etc.) Historically breakthroughs have not always been welcomed. This is nothing new.
And for those who argue that we should have an individualistic way of looking at people let me tell you that this idea fuels racism also; The poor bring it on themselves--The blacks who fail are lazy and have an entitlement complex--I've heard it all. You only THINK you are being fair.
posted by Student of Man at 12:48 PM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


I'm not arguing for an individualistic viewpoint of everything generally. I'm saying that information about racial averages simply gives us zero information about the individual child and his or her deficeits or gifts, so it could not serve this purpose. Of course there are systematic, non-individual differences between races, and this is because our society sees people in terms of races. Hispanics have in common that they are seen as Hispanics, and cultural associations with the category of Hispanic affect all Hispanics. But a supposed average cognitive ability of a race is not, by itself, something that systematically affects all members of a race; it's an average, not a universal characteristic. However, it could come to systematically affect all members of a race if the fact of this average cognitive ability were publicized and it colored our perception of all members of the race.

But now it is my bedtime, and if tomorrow I'm still the only one arguing this position then I will concede that I was mistaken.
posted by creasy boy at 1:13 PM on October 17, 2007


The solution is to mix all races and creeds together into one big race of Tan.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:23 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Mmmhummm. yeah. When will these guys realize that the concept of intelligence is a subjective one. Essentially, it is a consensus view of what it is that constitutes some sort of higher thought processes of the human brain.

It isn't like the weight of an actinum atom or even the ability of the body to run 100 meters. It isn't an actual quality. So then these jokers want to link a gene to it? How is that possible?

Let's get this straight--the idea of intelligence is a construct. There can't be a gene for it just as there can't be a gene for being a swell person--the definition of a swell person varies. So does that of intelligence. So we ought to stop trying to "prove" who is smarter than one another.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:42 PM on October 17, 2007


I also wonder what Watson thinks about the idea that people of Indian and Chinese and Japanese ancestry are smarter than whites.

I'd bet a chunk of money he believes it isn't so, despite any sort of number of test scores that might say otherwise.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:44 PM on October 17, 2007


The mayor of London has announced that Watson won't be allowed into the city. Watson meanwhile is on a plane to Heathrow right this very moment. This should be interesting *grabs popcorn*
posted by Aversion Therapy at 1:56 PM on October 17, 2007


Mr. Watson based most of his theories of black intelligence on his fond like of Fat Albert and The Cosby Kids. In his wither'd mind, he still thinks that it was live-action. Tally-ho!
posted by doctorschlock at 2:12 PM on October 17, 2007


Hey-b Docta Watson-ba, you like school in summa-ba... no class!
posted by Pollomacho at 2:15 PM on October 17, 2007


I also wonder what Watson thinks about the idea that people of Indian and Chinese and Japanese ancestry are smarter than whites.

I'd bet a chunk of money he believes it isn't so, despite any sort of number of test scores that might say otherwise
posted by Ironmouth

Hope you didn't mentally bet too large a chunk, Ironmouth.

I don't have cites to hand but Watson does indeed acknowledge a hierarchy of intelligence along those lines.

Personally, I think he's a complete shit when he runs his mouth off on this subject - but he is a consistent shit.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:22 PM on October 17, 2007


Exactly. I'm absolutely sure that if we could prove there are genetic differences in intelligence between "ethnicities" and "races" (whatever those are biologically), what we learn would be only used for good, with there being just barely a non-zero chance that it would be used to harm innocent people. Similar to how the Area Denial weapon will only be used to harm the bad and help the good.

Slightly hysterical don't you think? By this logic nothing should be invented or created that has the slightest chance of being misused.

And your analogy to weaponry is like way off balance. A cognitive study in and of itself doesn't put people in gas chambers or blow them up.
posted by tkchrist at 2:28 PM on October 17, 2007


At least in principle, it's not impossible that some groups could be, well, smarter than others.

Yeah, but those groups don't overlap with what we call race. The group of, say, PhD Computer Science candidates tend to be a smart group. They also, if my experience is anything to go by, have diverse ethnic origins.

Also, IQ tests meaning much of anything. L O L.
posted by jokeefe at 2:37 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


a bit of pure speculation on my part:
he has been working on the genetic origin of mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia with a view to identifying and then presumably treating or correcting the dna sections involved. if a sequence of genes was found to relate to intelligence, then it may be possible to treat an individual to increase their intelligence. if this sequence happened to correlate with a particular ethnic group, then yes, it could be used to justify discrimination against them, but treating people to increase their intelligence would be of more benefit to everyone.
this is the angle i imagine he is taking. whether it is desirable, or even feasible to view quality of life as being linked solely to intelligence is another matter.
posted by fay at 2:38 PM on October 17, 2007


He's just being Mr. White Mans Time.
posted by Artw at 2:40 PM on October 17, 2007


I think this is something worth researching, but it should be done objectively; both "race" and "intelligence" are socially-constructed concepts. Neither one is really something that you can quantify. With race, there are always fringe cases where it comes down more to behavio and self-identification than any physical characteristics. And "intelligence" is too vague as to be generally quantifiable. You can perhaps quantify certain aspects of critical or spacial or mathematical reasoning, but none of them are really 'intelligence,' in the same sense as we normally use it.

But I don't have a problem with studying the aspects of brain functioning or ability that can be measured directly, and then testing them for correlations against other measurable quantities, although we should keep in mind that correlation isn't causation.

We don't necessarily understand much of how the brain and cognition actually work, so I don't think there's any reason to rule out genetic influences on it, but you have to be very careful when studying this stuff that you don't allow cultural bullshit to sneak in, because that undermines the entire thing.

And Watson is definitely using social bullshit terms and trying to make a quasi-scientific argument with them (or, trying to use some of the language of scientific inquiry to back up a bullshit social theory, take your pick) and that's absolutely wrong.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:55 PM on October 17, 2007


a bit of pure speculation on my part:
he has been working on the genetic origin of mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia with a view to identifying and then presumably treating or correcting the dna sections involved. if a sequence of genes was found to relate to intelligence, then it may be possible to treat an individual to increase their intelligence. if this sequence happened to correlate with a particular ethnic group, then yes, it could be used to justify discrimination against them, but treating people to increase their intelligence would be of more benefit to everyone.
this is the angle i imagine he is taking. whether it is desirable, or even feasible to view quality of life as being linked solely to intelligence is another matter.


By "working" do you mean "conducting research?" Because he's not.
posted by desuetude at 3:01 PM on October 17, 2007


Slightly hysterical don't you think? By this logic nothing should be invented or created that has the slightest chance of being misused.

Not by any reasonable logic. Obviously, some things lend themselves more to harmful use than others. Take the humble spoon: yeah, you can use it to stab someone, but it doesn't lend itself to that use the way something with sharp edges and a sharp point does. (Except for the Vorpal Spoon. Don't use that to eat your breakfast cereal, I'll tell you what. But I digress.)

My point is that history already suggests that any studies into the reified attribute we call intelligence with regard to the construct we call race stand a far greater chance of being used for harm than, say, investigations into the matter of which race has the nicest smiles. See The Mismeasure of Man linked to above.

And your analogy to weaponry is like way off balance. A cognitive study in and of itself doesn't put people in gas chambers or blow them up.

I'm against the Area Denial beam or whatever the hell it is, but I can see how it might be used for good. I just have absolutely no faith that it will consistently be used in such a manner. I see no way in which a gas chamber can be used for good (note that I'm anti-death penalty). Explosives have their good uses, but bombs seem to be used exclusively to blow people up, quite often with the consequence of killing innocent people right along with the "bad guys."

In my view the kinds of research Watson is suggesting lie somewhere between the AD and a bomb.
posted by lord_wolf at 3:07 PM on October 17, 2007


What an asshole! I heard Rosalind Franklin deeply loved all Africans and thought they were of superior intelligence but died before her thoughts on Africans could be recorded!
posted by inoculatedcities at 3:21 PM on October 17, 2007


None of us is as dumb as all of us.
posted by blue_beetle at 3:24 PM on October 17, 2007


Sickle Cell anemia.
Before research - black people are lazy.
After research - some black people are ill, we found treatements, and now those people are functional members of society.
Maybe Watson is wrong. Maybe he's right. You can try to prove him wrong/right with research. Just yelling louder and louder that you don't want to know really doesn't seem fruitful in either direction.
posted by nomisxid at 3:26 PM on October 17, 2007


I learned from Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything that Crick believed in Directed Panspermia. Meaning, that the earth was "seeded" with life by aliens. This from a man with a Nobel Prize.

The aliens probably told him so themselves, while he was tripping acid.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:28 PM on October 17, 2007


In my view the kinds of research Watson is suggesting lie somewhere between the AD and a bomb.

I'm not sure what HE is suggesting in terms of research. I don't think he is suggesting anything. Other kookery.

But your position is very knee jerk and almost quaintly Luddite.
posted by tkchrist at 3:30 PM on October 17, 2007


Yeah, but those groups don't overlap with what we call race.

How do you know that?

First we have to determine WHAT intelligence is. How it is determined over societies and with individuals. Then we figure out how the brain functions. And then we figure out scientifically what race definitively is or isn't.

We have done none of things conclusively.

We shouldn't be opposed to science aiming to learn these things even if the answers MAY scare us.
posted by tkchrist at 3:35 PM on October 17, 2007


And then we figure out scientifically what race definitively is or isn't.

We shouldn't be opposed to science aiming to learn these things even if the answers MAY scare us.


I disagree. What useful knowledge could possibly come from a "scientific" definition of race. That would be like trying to come up with a "scientific" definition for the difference between a ford and a Chevy, any conception of race would involve drawing arbitrary lines for no good reason.
posted by delmoi at 4:05 PM on October 17, 2007


If one were going to try to investigate this, it seems like the best thing to do would be to abandon any possible perception of bias and simply look for DNA sequence codings that correlated to IQ as measured by several different tests.

*IF*, later on after this research, data mining reveals that some of those sequences consistently fall along ethnic lines, then that's useful information for setting beneficial social policies provided they are written by (purely hypothetical) intelligent and responsible leaders who take individual differences into account.

Even better, you don't have to be an asshat and say "double-check the [nationality] students for difficulty in mathematics", you can just say "double-check the students who test positive for single nucleotide polymorphisms near the OCA2 gene." This helps with the question of mixed heritage as well.
posted by Ryvar at 4:20 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what HE is suggesting in terms of research. I don't think he is suggesting anything. Other kookery.

All I can go by is what I read in the article: Watson [has] argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that " stupidity" could one day be cured

I think it's reasonable for me to conclude that he's suggesting research. Although to be fair, when he refers to "testing," he seems to be describing studies that have already been conducted.

But your position is very knee jerk and almost quaintly Luddite.

I apologize if I've done something to make you feel you need to become slightly venomous in our discussion.

That said, that's an interesting way to interpret and respond to what I wrote. I simply do not trust humanity to do good with any data gained from the lines of inquiry you and Watson are suggesting. It's not knee jerk, it's an opinion I've come to after some reading about this topic. Have you read The Mismeasure of Man?

If not, I highly recommend it as an excellent overview of the ways in which the idea of intelligence and tests that claim to measure it have been used to cause great harm both to individuals and to groups.

If you have read it, given the very charged history of this issue, what makes you think largely good things would spring from determining that there's a genetic component to intelligence that can be isolated? If there's a way to "fix" defects in it, do you think it would be inexpensive and immediately available to everyone or would the powerful use it to become more so (either by enhancing themselves or using it to justify the same policies discussed in Mismeasure of Man)? There's simply tremendous, tremendous potential to really hurt ourselves by going down this path.
posted by lord_wolf at 4:21 PM on October 17, 2007


any conception of race would involve drawing arbitrary lines for no good reason.

Exactly my point. In a world of 6 billion people where any single one of them could, with sufficient money, be transferred from their current location as of this moment to any other location on the planet within the span of 24 hours, there is no such thing as truly pure ethnicity at a genetic level.

DNA, however, is much more discrete. There may be multiple factors, some of them intertwined/with dependencies, but there is definitely a single definite heritable sequence.

Platonic realism postulates the existence of perfect universal forms off in some ghost existence. For example, there is one perfect 'horse' form of whom all REAL horses are imperfect reflections. Even if ethnicities did have universal forms, no real individual would ever match their universal's DNA.
posted by Ryvar at 4:30 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


This review of "IQ and the wealth of Nations" from Nature, is a concise and scholarly account of what's wrong with Watson's logic. In particular:
"It is a widespread error to treat IQs as values on a simple biometric trait .. There is no scientific basis for it. Test items are devised impressionistically by middle class psychologists and simply mimic psycholinguistic structures of schooling and middle class (eg clerical/administrative) occupations. IQ scores simply reflect middle class membership."
and
'the concept of race is a social and cultural construction which has no scientific justification in human biology'.
The full review is worth a read.
posted by grahamwell at 4:41 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


On further reflection:

The end result of the only process - inbreeding - that could result in establishment of a single definitive genetic sequence for a new 'ethnicity' invariably results in genetic corruption.

It may be fair to say that the very mechanism of DNA itself abhors the establishment of uniform discrete sequences as an ethnicity.
posted by Ryvar at 4:45 PM on October 17, 2007


Just because something makes you sad (there is no heaven) doesn't mean it isn't true.
posted by four panels at 4:57 PM on October 17, 2007


Jody Tresidder : Get yer friggin' facts right.

Get your own friggin’ facts right and while your at it, maybe learn to read a little more critically.

I saw the PBS special based on Brenda Maddox's Bio and I thought Franklin got a raw deal all around.

But let's look at the paper (The Structure of DNA); W&C published in Nature in '53. This is the way they saw fit to acknowledge her contribution:

We have also been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M.H.F. Wilkins, Dr. R.E. Franklin and their co workers at King’s College London.

Stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature. What the hell does that mean? That they walked by her laboratory and breathed in some chemical fumes?? That's just pompous BS. What it should say is: Thanks to the ground breaking data of Dr. R.E. Franklin without whom our findings on the structure of DNA would have been utterly impossible.

If that wasn’t bad enough they list her after her assistant Maurice Wilkins, who is basically her student, and showed Watson a picture of the latest B-form x-rays she’d been working on. Without her permission. It turned out to be the key data Watson and Crick needed to identify the Helical structure of DNA (as they were utterly inept in experimental work and x-ray crystallography).

It's obvious that Watson was intimidated by her abilities and he doesn’t waste any effort in portraying her as an overwrought easily flustered woman and the manuscript to The Double Helix, was passed over by lots of publishers, including Harvard Press, when he refused to change a single word, because he felt it captured all his thoughts of the time. Probably not a bad point, but as to why some of the more nasty aspects of it couldn’t be excised is just stupid. It adds nothing to the completeness of the story, other than making him look like a total dick:

"At the age of thirty-one her dresses showed all the imagination of English blue stocking adolescents. […] Clearly Rosy had to go or be put in her place”. Blah blah blah Paraphrasing here: "She was out of control and probably had decided she wouldn’t marry and she came from a family of uptight bankers and she wasn't nice to look at and wouldn't make herself look good (that last part you can read as “Jew Dyke” probably.) (pg. 14) And to be clear I couldn't care less about PC whatever, but being mean for the sake of it is just infantile.

It was only accepted for publication on the condition that he would add an epilogue making up for some of the nasty things and admitting that she was indeed an excellent scientist. Perhaps he shouldn’t be singled out as being alone in this attitude, as male scientists in England shunned women as non persons. Even though Franklin was one of the finest x-ray crystallographers in the world.

Even sadder is that when the Noble prize was finally awarded to Watson and Crick in 1962 it was given to Watson, Crick and Wilkins instead, as the prize isn't awarded posthumously and she passed away in 1957, (although Wilkins getting it was considered a tip of the hat from the Noble committee towards her work).

So stolen? Maybe, maybe not. My main point was that he's an obnoxious dork (or dick actually) and I think he gets off on being a dick, so I don't take him very seriously on his racist remarks. But he needs to be reminded that he probably owes more than he'd like to admit to Franklin. Although, when I see him on Charlie Rose I always get a kick out of him and he has a lot of interesting things to say.
posted by Skygazer at 5:08 PM on October 17, 2007 [1 favorite]


Skygazer,
Why do you say I should check my facts - when there's no need at all?

You originally wrote: "Except if it concerns the woman whose work led directly to the discovery of the double helix theory of DNA and who was never properly credited...you know cos she was woman and Jewish so Watson and Crick, ambitious buggers that they were just stole her work outright"

I disagreed.

Now you say "So stolen? Maybe, maybe not"

And now you accept she was credited in the original paper- as I said -, but you say the tone and wording wasn't to your liking!

And then you just amplify the point I already made - that Watson was stupidly vile about her in his memoir!

Can I further ask - would you really prefer that "The Double Helix" had been appropriately sanitized before publication?

Don't you think it's better that Watson revealed himself - in all his childishness and bitchiness - to give a more accurate, personal and uninhibited snapshot of the way science was conducted at the time?

And you do know, I take it, that Franklin continued to be friends with Crick (Watson to a lesser extent because he was already back in the US) after their discovery was published?

How do you account for the fact that Franklin graciously admitted that she couldn't see what they figured out until they did?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:43 PM on October 17, 2007


So how does he feel about women in science?

Useful to have around, probably, since he stole the data that lead to his DNA discovery from one.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:36 PM on October 17, 2007


Also, Skygazer,

Perhaps I shouldn't have jumped on you quite so hard?

Edgeways comment - before your original - was a lot more asinine...("I'd say it was 90% luck he was in on the double helix discovery (and hence the Nobel) and perhaps 10% intelligence. (well that and a little theft of course) He happened to be at the right place at the right time. Any moderately bright grad student in the right field being there at that time would have filled his shoes as well if not better.")

That really is poseur bullshit.

The helix structure even stumped Linus Pauling at the time.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:37 PM on October 17, 2007


Science should be about objective pursuit of the truth, not an extension of political or social struggles. I question whether a scientist even has any moral responsibility to consider the social implications of their statements. They're not politicians. Condemning a scientific idea based on it's likely social consequences (e.g. "this is wrong because it gives ammunition to racists and bigots") is a lot like Creationists condemning Darwinism because it "leads to moral decline in society - because if people think they're descended from monkeys they'll act like monkeys!". Who the hell cares? Isn't the only relevant criterion for a scientific theory whether it's true or not?

There are plenty of scientific arguments against racial differences (and even against the existence of race as a scientifically meaningful concept) without recourse to the obnoxious moralism being displayed by Watson's critics.

Regarding Rosalind Franklin: coulda, shoulda, woulda. No researcher works in a vacuum without being influenced by other's theories. Similar arguments can be made that Einstein was influenced by Leibnitz and others. Crick and Watson didn't award themselves the Nobel prize, so don't blame them for Franklin being overlooked.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 7:07 PM on October 17, 2007


Ok, the first bogo filter that should set of alarm bells before we even begin to entertain the thought that Watson could be right is that he thinks "prospect of Africa" is a meaningful phrase.

Stop. Right. There.

I suspect that one of the biggest myths driving racism is the concept of "Africa." "Africa" is at least three regions that are, in terms of human genetics, culture, politics, economics and history, as distinct from each other as our vision of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In fact, transecting Africa from Libya to South Africa, you encounter more human genetic diversity than exists from London to Beijing. The genetic evidence just doesn't support the myth of "African" as a race, and the political and economic geography doesn't support the myth of "Africa" a single homogenous problem with "gloomy prospects" that warrant the patronizing interest of Americans.

Which leads to the second big bogo filter which should be the concept of "black people" as a distinct genetic population. At least in the United States we call someone "black" if their skin is darker than brown paper bag, lumping together cultural and genetic groups that are quite distinctive to those with the ear and eye for diversity. In addition, Americans historically have called people "black" if one out of their four grandparents were black, unless they were able to successfully pass as white.

And lets not get started on "Hispanic," a category that encompasses descendants of both European immigrants and Native Americans. It seems to me that Hispanic as a racial category suffers from the same one-drop dogma that inflicts black and white. Anti-immigration pundits argue that Hispanic culture with its European language and religion is not European enough to assimilate into America, which somehow both has a monopoly on European heritage and the right to hold it it distain when it fails to match U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The end result is that "race" as defined by U.S. politics has a rather dubious genetic standing. On the other hand, the effects of prejudice and racism are certainly biological. When we can no longer say that the children of our constructed ethnic minorities are afflicted by de facto segregation that puts them in the path of multiple developmental threats, then perhaps we can entertain whether x intelligence phenotype is correlated with y skin color phenotype.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:16 PM on October 17, 2007 [2 favorites]


Oops: and the right to hold it it distain when it fails to match U.S. foreign policy objectives.

The right to hold Europe in disdain when it fails to match U.S. foreign policy objectives.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:25 PM on October 17, 2007


And the blacklisting begins...
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 8:47 PM on October 17, 2007


Why should we begin this line of enquiry in the first place? What useful purpose would it serve?

>You mean "inquiry?"


No, I think he meant "enquiry".
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:34 PM on October 17, 2007


Jody Tresidder: Why do you say I should check my facts - when there's no need at all?

You originally wrote: "Except if it concerns the woman whose work led directly to the discovery of the double helix theory of DNA and who was never properly credited...you know cos she was woman and Jewish so Watson and Crick, ambitious buggers that they were just stole her work outright"

I disagreed.


Okay. Back up. I made an over broad, in your words “lazy, credulous and foolish” statement to mimic what I though was Watson’s own “Lazy and credulous and foolish” statement concerning the lesser IQ of Africans (does it take a genius to realize that Western IQ tests should be used to measure those who have lived and grown up in the West?), With the logic being, that if his reasoning on Africans is correct than such a facile un-nuanced statement could be applied to his own intellectual achievements, especially in regard to the controversy surrounding whether or not Watson stole the data necessary for the discovery of the helical nature of DNA from Rosalind Franklin.

You further wrote:

Rosalind Franklin was properly credited for her contribution to C and W's discovery. Look at the original, all-important DNA structure paper. Her credit is there. Watson and Crick knew her work was very important and said so unambiguously at the time and right from the start.

That’s not true of that first paper. If you look at the acknowledgement of Franklin’s contribution to The Structure of DNA in Nature, you can almost smell the sarcasm and pettiness dripping off the acknowledgement which reads as follows (and word for word):

We have also been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M.H.F. Wilkins, Dr. R.E. Franklin and their co workers at King’s College London.

And I lampooned that as a laughable and backhanded way of acknowledging a woman who’s work was crucial to that groundbreaking first paper W & C published in Nature in 1953. You can read it yourself on page 98 of The Double Helix (Norton Critical Edition) in Watson’s own words. Maurice Wilkins, Franklin’s assistant, took the photo out of her drawer and showed a Watson an x-ray diffraction photo of B-form DNA without her knowledge. And it was the final piece and proof in the puzzle for the helical structure of DNA. The problem which had been stumping better minds, including Linus Pauling who probably would’ve discovered the structure himself if he’d seen Franklin’s photo.

So overall was it stolen or not? I don’t know the answer to that, I’m not a scientist and who knows if Franklin approved or disapproved of Wilkins actions. Supposedly she’d already made the data available in a lecture she’d given. There’s conflicting stories from a lot of authoritative people. But it’s without a doubt that the discovery, was due to Franklin’s work.

So going back to Watson’s unsubstantiated and idiotic generalization about Africans and their low IQs, screw him, if he can suspend critical thought, so can I and I think he did steal the discovery of the structure of DNA from Franklin.

And then you just amplify the point I already made - that Watson was stupidly vile about her in his memoir!

Please tell me at what point I never said I didn’t agree and in light of his recent stupidity, it deserves to be amplified upon. I was trying to show that it’s not the first time the man has acted like a dick. [As a sidenote, I find it hilarious how down he was on Franklin for not being much to look at, but this is a supremely unattractive Watson with Crick on the right in this photo with clown hair during that time period.]

Don't you think it's better that Watson revealed himself - in all his childishness and bitchiness - to give a more accurate, personal and uninhibited snapshot of the way science was conducted at the time?

Yeah, absolutely. Just because I point out how stupid he sounded in his book has nothing to do with whether he should’ve said what he said in the book or not. Just like I think it's wrong for anyone to try and censor him or blacklist him or whatever now. It made that book more interesting. Probably one of the few books that shows the bitchy pettiness scientists in feel for one another.

How do you account for the fact that Franklin graciously admitted that she couldn't see what they figured out until they did?

I have no idea. I imagine after a certain point (her work was also in that same issue of Nature from 1953, they were all making a name for themselves and hostilities ceased and Franklin was on her way to winning a Noble herself. And although Crick and Franklin became friends I don’t think she and Watson were ever freinds and actually I believe Crick himself couldn’t stand Watson much either.

The helix structure even stumped Linus Pauling at the time.

I don’t know if Edgeways is so entirely off or asinine. I imagine with the work that Franklin was doing maybe Pauling would have gotten to it first. Hell, he came awfully close and he was much more accomplished than Watson or Crick.

L.P. Hatecraft: Crick and Watson didn't award themselves the Nobel prize, so don't blame them for Franklin being overlooked.

Franklin died of cancer in 1958 and the Nobel was awarded to W & C in 1962. It’s not given post-humously, but it was given to Franklin’s assistant Maurice Wilkins who expanded on her discoveries and those of W & C. There’s little doubt she would’ve got it if she was alive.
posted by Skygazer at 9:35 PM on October 17, 2007



If there's a way to "fix" defects in it, do you think it would be inexpensive and immediately available to everyone or would the powerful use it to become more so (either by enhancing themselves or using it to justify the same policies discussed in Mismeasure of Man)?

Cancer and AIDS treatment — most advanced medical treatments for that matter — are expensive and not immediately available to everyone. The elites get the best of all of that. So we shouldn't spend money on cancer research?

Who knows what would be discovered. Maybe nothing. Maybe a cure to Alzheimer's. I am not afraid. I am perplexed why you are.

Sure there are ethical concerns. There are ethical concerns in nearly all important breakthroughs. Tell me. You in favor of stem cell research?

There's simply tremendous, tremendous potential to really hurt ourselves by going down this path.

And there is tremendous, tremendous potential to heal us if we go down this path (? path is rather ominous way to phrase it since we have not even defined the line of research in question).

Anyway. I say don't let your world be governed by fear. But I will check out the book, thanks.
posted by tkchrist at 10:24 PM on October 17, 2007


People who are complaining of blacklisting are full of shit. Guess what. We live in a free society--one is free to say what they want. But everytime I hear a cry of censorship or blacklisting, I think that people want to be free of the consequences of their speech and actions, like freedom of speech frees people from being called assholes for being assholes. That's why I laugh when I hear that people are complaining about being "censored" for their works. Censorship is a government action. Not a bunch of people saying--gee this is bullshit coming out of the mouth of someone that people are willing to pay attention to.

Guess what? The whole fucking purpose of freedom of speech is to let assholes run their mouth--so that we know exactly what they think and we can condemn it freely. That way evil ideas are called out for what they are.

Hitler had a book, called the Zweites Buch. It was Mein Kampf writ large, with the whole plan for invading Russia in there. Anybody who read it knew right away what he was going to do. But he decided to hold back, partially because his publisher didn't want to reduce sales of Mein Kampf and partially because Hitler felt it revealed too much.

Free speech is about letting idiots like Watson run their mouth. So that we can punish them for being douches.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:59 PM on October 17, 2007


KirkJobSluder: Which leads to the second big bogo filter which should be the concept of "black people" as a distinct genetic population.

Some basis in fact.

I think Kleiman gets it roughly right.
posted by Gyan at 2:47 AM on October 18, 2007


People who are complaining of blacklisting are full of shit. Guess what. We live in a free society--one is free to say what they want. But everytime I hear a cry of censorship or blacklisting, I think that people want to be free of the consequences of their speech and actions, like freedom of speech frees people from being called assholes for being assholes. That's why I laugh when I hear that people are complaining about being "censored" for their works. Censorship is a government action. Not a bunch of people saying--gee this is bullshit coming out of the mouth of someone that people are willing to pay attention to.

I disagree for two reasons. Firstly, professional blacklisting and other institutional means of enforcing taboos are almost as effective at silencing people as state-enforced censorship, as they inhibit people from speaking their minds out of fear of losing their jobs, especially in this day and age when so many formerly government institutions are privatized. It gives corporations and special interest groups too much power to exercise a veto over what are "permissible" opinions. Secondly, "free speech" and "freedom of inquiry" aren't just legal guarantees. They are also cultural values. In a culture where people blacklist those with political views or scientific theories they don't like, open discussion of certain topics becomes constrained to the point where people don't want to open their mouths for fear of stepping in some tabooby-trap. If people want to disagree with Watson for his opinions or call him an asshole that's one thing, but why do they have to get all boycotty?

That way evil ideas are called out for what they are.

The notion of genetic differences between groups isn't an "evil idea", it's a scientific hypothesis. Is DNA a "hate molecule" now? Why are people so hysterical about racial issues? I read a while back that Aboriginal Australian children from Outback communities score almost a standard deviation higher than European children in the Visuo-spatial component of IQ tests, in particular tests that involve memorizing objects or transforming/rotating images in their head. Perhaps that is because those skills came in useful during thousands of years living in the Australian desert, where memorizing landmarks and finding the quickest route from A to B might be the difference between life and death? Who knows, but isn't that something interesting that's worth investigation? Why let the potential misuse of these results by lowest-common-denominator gutter racists impede scientific understanding?
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 2:56 AM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


Skygazer,

Now you claim you cunningly constructed a deliberately stupid comment about Watson's past research as a kind of sarcastic tribute to his stupid comments about race?

Yeah. Sure.

That's so outrageous, it's funny.

As far as "and actually I believe Crick himself couldn’t stand Watson much either. "

Look, your private imaginings - your emotional hunches - really have no place in this debate. You might as well say you "believe" they were both aliens.

Crick and Watson were joined at the hip intellectually, were amazing lifelong friends and also bickered volcanically. They thrived on argument and being members of the awkward squad.

You say you have "no idea" why Franklin never remotely called "foul" on C & W's discovery in the years after it was published - and before her illness took her.

That's a huge hole in your supposition that the subsequent controversy was an open and shut case of theft.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 5:24 AM on October 18, 2007


If you look at the acknowledgement of Franklin’s contribution to The Structure of DNA in Nature, you can almost smell the sarcasm and pettiness dripping off the acknowledgement which reads as follows (and word for word):

We have also been stimulated by a knowledge of the general nature of the unpublished experimental results and ideas of Dr. M.H.F. Wilkins, Dr. R.E. Franklin and their co workers at King’s College London.


Odd to judge an acknowledgment on metaphorical odor.

Look, this sort of fusty writing is typical for scientific journals. It still is. It doesn't smell like anything.
posted by desuetude at 6:22 AM on October 18, 2007


Jody Tresidder : Now you claim you cunningly constructed a deliberately stupid comment about Watson's past research as a kind of sarcastic tribute to his stupid comments about race?

Look, I don't really care what you think at this point. You obviously have no sense of humor and are taking all of this too literally. My initial comment was, in fact an off the cuff response about someone I consider to be deeply moronic in the understanding of humans and humanity etc. I find it endlessly entertaining that someone supposedly possessed of scientific genius, is such an utter emotionally tone deaf dipshit. You don't seem able to grasp the novelty of that and instead seem intent on calling people out with what you perceive to be some sort of superior sense of knowledge and in spite of your condescending insults, I was trying to politely point out that I am aware of Maddox's work and that I have in fact read The Double Helix and even worked closely with the book in my job and with academics, some whom have less than a sterling opinion of Watson and can point to plenty of places the man has been a petty and underhanded and potentially unethical prick (some might say autistic..I would say socially retarded) who pretty ungraciously clawed his way to a Noble prize. You're making a big mistake to think you're some sort of intellectual giant needing to take to task the great unwashed with your "intellectual rigor"...

Look, your private imaginings - your emotional hunches - really have no place in this debate. You might as well say you "believe" they were both aliens.

You know what, my private emotional hunches have every right to be in this debate, this isn't exactly an academic symposium and I reserve the right to say anything I want. Who made you Dean of Metafilter?
posted by Skygazer at 7:11 AM on October 18, 2007


PS: Jody, you might find this helpful. ~Wink~


Main Entry: iro·ny
Pronunciation: \??-r?-n? also ??(-?)r-n?\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural iro·nies
Etymology: Latin ironia, from Greek eir?nia, from eir?n dissembler
Date: 1502

1: a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony

2 a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c: an ironic expression or utterance

3 a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2): an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called also dramatic irony tragic irony

synonyms see wit
posted by Skygazer at 7:39 AM on October 18, 2007


Skygazer,

Good for you for arguing (no snark at all).

You say Watson is "is such an utter emotionally tone deaf dipshit."

I agree 100%.

But just because he refuses to be a delightful old fart doesn't mean you should feel free to hose everything he has achieved with disdain and righteous disgust.

Watson has never been a goodwill ambassador for science.
He is a total disaster from a PR point of view and drives colleagues to despair with his personal, crackpot theories.

But you seem to be saying that if Watson is not a cartoon hero, then he must be a cartoon villain.

And I think that's pathetic and dangerous.

(And I have an excellent sense of humor, thanks!)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


...and Skygazer?

The lecture on irony?

You go too far!!

(Yeah, I have been pompous. But you asked for it:))
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:16 AM on October 18, 2007


FFS, Skygazer, it's spelled Nobel, not Noble.
posted by desuetude at 8:33 AM on October 18, 2007


Skygazer,

In the same interview that started the race firestorm (The UK's Sunday Times), there is this paragraph. I think it might explain some of my fierce defense of Watson's legacy.

"When he took on [Cold Spring Harbor Lab's] directorship in 1967 at the age of 39, it was an ailing institution whose endowment was effectively zero, but it stands today as one of the world’s foremost genetic research institutes. Last year its budget stood at an impressive $115.4m. Success, he believes, comes from having the right objectives: “Ones that are important and which are achievable.” Is he proud of the achievement? “Yes, I always wanted anything we did to be in the top five in the world. But I achieved it by encouraging people and making people think that you’re good enough to do something very good and make sure you don’t waste your life with unimportant objectives.” He says Cold Spring Harbor couldn’t survive if the science was pedestrian: “It has to be unusual or you die.”
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:53 AM on October 18, 2007


The problem is that in America today, and especially in a place like MeFi, you cannot discuss any differences among people of different races/ethnicities/cultures without immediately being shouted down as a racist.

There is a reason that the NBA is >90% "black", if you'll allow the term.

It may be a multi-faceted, complex reason, but a reason does exist. There has to be some inherent, demonstrable reason that almost all of the best basketball players in the nation are of the same racial background, even though that group makes up a minority of the nation's population.

Do you think there are any shortage of white men who like to play basketball and would love to be professionals?

But, if you begin to inquire into WHY practically all NBA players are black, then you suddenly become a racist. As someone said above, why even ask these kinds of questions?

If a sportscaster went so far as to pose that question on the air, they'd lose their job immediately. Even though any fool could observe precisely what they were saying.

It is a truth, but a truth we don't like, so we try to insulate ourselves from it.

The human species is not going to progress any further until we become really honest. Totally, completely, brutally honest.

What most of the posters here fail to realize, and in fact most refuse to even consider, is what if Whatson is right? What if there is something different about the intellectual capacity of African native populations?

But, since everyone in the thread is an evolutionary scientist and also a psychiatrist and a developmental sociologist, it is beyond the pale to even suggest such a thing.

I don't know what to think, because I don't know anything about the data. What I do know is a Nobel prize winner made a supposition MOST LIKELY based on something besides simple racism. But, since it was couched in uncomfortable terms, then this man, who I will posit is quite likely smarter than anyone else in this thread, and possibly smarter than any two of us combined, must be stark raving mad and a lunatic and a bigot.

Really? Is that the Occam's razor approach I hear appealed to on MeFi so often? Is the simplest explanation that an otherwise brilliant individual must be completely manufacturing, obscuring, and misrepresenting a point of view to support his own bigotry?

Maybe he is a bigot. Maybe African native populations do have some sort of cognitive shortcoming.

Discounting uncomfortable things out of hand does no service to anyone.

Whether he is a dick is completely and totally besides the point. Most people in the Unix community are dicks too. That doesn't completely discount everything they say.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:14 AM on October 18, 2007


"I would like an example of one useful purpose that would be served by investigating which ethnic groups are on average more cognitively able than others. tkchrist, if certain individual deficits are fixable, then of course this is a valid field for research. But what do we gain be comparing average intelligence quotients across ethnic lines?"

posted by creasy boy at 11:27 AM on October 17

Low intelligence could be associated with criminality.
posted by cousincozen at 9:31 AM on October 18, 2007


JT: But you seem to be saying that if Watson is not a cartoon hero, then he must be a cartoon villain.

And I think that's pathetic and dangerous.


I said he was a dick and a dipshit who nonetheless is harmeless, hugely entertaining and has interesting ideas. Like I said I love his interviews on Charlie Rose precisely because he's so smart, but like a bus coming oto quickly down a mountainside, you know there could be a disaster issuing out of his mouth at any second.

The lecture on irony? You go too far!!


Sorry, I couldn't help it. Don't take it too seriously.


JW via JT in regards to the success of Cold Spring Harbor Labs: But I achieved it by encouraging people and making people think that you’re good enough to do something very good and make sure you don’t waste your life with unimportant objectives.

Words to live by.


Yes desuetude...Nobel Nobel Nobel....I always mess that up....


posted by Skygazer at 9:42 AM on October 18, 2007


The notion of genetic differences between groups isn't an "evil idea", it's a scientific hypothesis.

I was speaking of blacklisting.

Also DNA is not an "evil molecule." It is a molecule--a grouping of atoms in a specific structure.

But where the issue is here isn't with the DNA molecule, or heredity, but of the inherent problem when it comes to both defining the groups and the genetic differences.

What is the group you are talking about? Africans? How are they defined? Good luck figuring out where that group boundary goes. Because in the end, it will be a judgment call.

What is the genetic difference? Intelligence? What is that? As I said upthread, there is no such thing. Intelligence is a social construct, a grouping of prejudices and half-witted beliefs which measures very little. It is a subjective concept in that it does not correspond to a physically measurable characteristic. How then, are we to correlate this subjective concept with the objectively measurable sequence of base pairs in the DNA molecule of any one person? You can't. You can say, hey, people with X sequence of genetic materials are more likely than not to be over 1.5 m tall, because you can measure the height of people. But "intelligence" is what a bunch of people say it is, not a physically measurable quantity. There simply is no way that nature has been selecting for millions of years for a definition that was just made up in the last 200 years.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:01 PM on October 18, 2007


It may be a multi-faceted, complex reason, but a reason does exist. There has to be some inherent, demonstrable reason that almost all of the best basketball players in the nation are of the same racial background, even though that group makes up a minority of the nation's population.

It is becasue people who are poor are more likely to go into sports as a method for making money because they lack the money to get the kind of education that would make a regular career worth it. Note that only the poorest people tend to produce athletes in the most abusive sport--boxing.

Also, look at the game itself. What do you need? Hoop. Ball. Thus poor people tend to play that game more than any other. Very few African-Americans in hockey and it ain't because they "don't like the cold." The skill set is nearly equivalent to football, where plenty of blacks play--but where you don't have to be able to afford ice time to learn how to play.

Did you know that in the 30's, people were afraid that the Jews were taking over sports because they were dumber than whites and better at sports? Now the current stereotype of a jewish person is a really smart person who is no good at sports. But back then, there was a panic about the jews taking over sports.

The reason people get all pissed off when people start discussing this shit is because it has been historically mixed up with a whole lot of fuck ups and terrible logic which resulted in a lot of people fighting, getting their asses killed, thrown into slavery, you name it.

If you are going to come at anybody these days with "blacks are dumber" (that's what this is, pure and simple) you'd better have a definition of intelligence which is not an arbitrary social construct, and a full understanding of how genotype manifests itself as phenotype in the construction of our brains.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:10 PM on October 18, 2007


Ynoxas: The last time this got kicked around, there was a great essay in The Skeptic which points out that everyone likes to speculate about the genetics of African Americans in Basketball, but not why Asians seem to have a stranglehold on table tennis, or why road sports seem to be a white man's game.

But, since everyone in the thread is an evolutionary scientist and also a psychiatrist and a developmental sociologist, it is beyond the pale to even suggest such a thing.

Well, actually, I do have the PhD behind my name in one of the behavioral sciences, and I also have the biology background as well. And the science is called psychology. Psychiatry is the medical speciality. You go to a psychologist if you want to talk about the construct validity and potential biases of IQ tests. You go to a psychiatrist for medical treatments of mental illness.

Really? Is that the Occam's razor approach I hear appealed to on MeFi so often? Is the simplest explanation that an otherwise brilliant individual must be completely manufacturing, obscuring, and misrepresenting a point of view to support his own bigotry?

But the problem is, looking over the history of brilliant individuals, the fact of the matter is that they are often, quite profoundly, wrong. Albert Einstein response to the seminal paper of Georges Lemaître on the Big Bang theory was a knee-jerk and shallow defense of a static universe which displays both a serious error in judgement and that he quite possibly didn't even fully read Lemaître's paper. Einstein changed his mind on the Big Bang, Hoyle never did. Pauling spent decades chasing down panspermia. Charles Darwin wrote a monograph on human psychology that is only of historic interest. B.F. Skinner dabbled in extending behaviorism into the realm of political philosophy. Newton was dead wrong about the nature of light, and Copernicus dead wrong about the motion of the planets. (His vision involved idealized circles.) Kepler's first theory of the solar system used platonic ideal solids. Sagan was probably fudging a bit with nuclear winter.

This is the reason why in the sciences, we have something called "blind review." Watson's previous track record as a biochemist and molecular biologist shouldn't matter. Either this statement is supported by evidence from the disciplines involved, or it isn't. And my take on the intelligence research suggests that he's out on a limb with a claim that is mostly unsupported by the available evidence. And his bold generalization of "Africans" certainly is contradicted by available evidence.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2007 [1 favorite]


So for example, one of the things that makes psychologists scratch their head and go "hrm" is the fact that we keep needing to renorm the tests every few years, because people in the industrialized world seem to be getting smarter. No major shift in population genetics explain this, but environmental variables can.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 5:11 PM on October 18, 2007


I wondered if he was using some special DNA-scientist meaning of the word fact when he said, "... based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really."
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:48 PM on October 18, 2007


This just in..for what it's worth (the dateline is given as October 19). From The Independent newspaper (UK), Watson's first statement since the story broke:

"I can understand much of this reaction. For if I said what I was quoted as saying, then I can only admit that I am bewildered by it. To those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. This is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

(I don't quite follow the implication of "if I said what I was quoted as saying". Perhaps this will become clearer).
posted by Jody Tresidder at 6:23 PM on October 18, 2007


KJS: I understand what you are saying, but my point was the people screaming, not that he was wrong, but that he was a racist. I'm not saying there is any value to his opinion, I'm saying that there could, possibly, be other reasons he would say such a thing besides simple bigotry.

And, interestingly enough, I thought about table tennis and NASCAR, but didn't feel the need to include them.

But, in light of his retraction, particularly his wording, I can only believe what I NOW consider to be the simplest explanation: that he's going senile.

One more thing though... as far as basketball is concerned, I've heard the "it's a poor people's sport" line before, and while I believe it may be a factor, if that were the only criteria, then surely latinos would dominate basketball.

So, while latinos can be spectacular athletes in baseball and soccer, they are almost unheard of in basketball and (american) football.

I don't see how or why it is racist to notice these specializations.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:16 PM on October 18, 2007


Watson apologizes. And is suspended.
posted by landis at 12:26 PM on October 19, 2007


So, while latinos can be spectacular athletes in baseball and soccer, they are almost unheard of in basketball and (american) football.

I don't see how or why it is racist to notice these


Jews were once considered to be genetically superior basketball players due to their innate craftiness. So while it may or may not be racist to notice these "specializations" it is erroneous and misguided likely as result of misunderstanding the full context of the situation. It is easy to not see the factors at play because they are a constant almost unnoticeable background in our lives but boy do they sure jump out when you go to historical cases.
posted by srboisvert at 7:48 AM on October 20, 2007


Watson Resigns from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:11 AM on October 26, 2007


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