Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Science, race, and intelligence…a Nobel Prize winner demonstrates that being smart and having good judgement are not related in any discernible way

with 10 comments

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James Watson, a famous DNA researcher, recently made controversial statements about race, intelligence, and related factors. It created quite a little tempest in a teapot, and has pretty much ended his career. Though presumably at 79 forced retirement won’t be too much of a hardship. This is a wonderful example though of why smart people should keep their mouths shut about stuff outside their field of expertise. Because when they do, they often say remarkably stupid things. Don’t even get me started on Richard Dawkins, the man makes me want to pull out my hair. Not for the dumb things he says, we all do that, welcome to Earth. No, because people think that every word that drops from his mouth is a pearl of wisdom. It’s called the halo effect, and is just another way scientists have shown since the 1920s that humans aren’t particularly rational when it comes right down to it. Who knew?

What did Dr Watson say that was so controversial? In a newspaper interview he said 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 followed up with commenting that he wished all people were equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true.” In other words, the formerly esteemed Dr Watson thinks black people are stupid. Apparently he’s said similar things about women before, so it’s not like this latest outburst was a big surprise.

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that his comments are scientific nonsense for two very simple reasons. The first is that neither race nor intelligence are measurable scientific concepts, they are arbitrary categories that can be defined any way one wants. All human beings are remarkably closely related, and there are any number of types of intelligence. We can all interbreed quite nicely, and have been doing so or thousands of years. So one can define either word the way one wants to get the result one wants. There’s no science involved here. Hell, when IQ tests were first invented the initial results showed that women were smarter than men. We couldn’t have that of course, so math questions were added to the tests until they got the “right” result.

The second reason is even more compelling. Even if there was some slight measurable difference between the intelligence of different races, so what? Whatever differences there are would be overshadowed by other factors, education being the biggest one. This issue was pretty much laid to rest in World War One when for the first time in history a large diverse population, US army draftees, were given a standardized intelligence test. To the shock and dismay of “scientific” racists, it turned out that blacks from the northern US states were smarter than whites from the southern US states. Northern whites scored higher than northern blacks and the same was true for the south, but it was clear that whatever differences there were were the result of the educational system and not anything inherent in racial intelligence.

Even more on point, if there was some trivial as yet to be measured difference in the intelligence of certain groups, so what? The difference would be minor and would mean nothing either individually or collectively. It wouldn’t make any difference on an individual level, which is the level we all live in. IE if whites were smarter than blacks, would it make every white smarter than every black? Not even close. White people would still meet plenty of blacks who were smarter than them, intelligence varies widely from one individual to the next.

So scientifically and logically Dr Watson’s remarks are nonsense. And thus people assume he is just trying to find scientific rationalizations for his own prejudices. Frankly I find it hard to see any other way. One would think if he was so smart he would be able to see how his remarks would be used to pillory him. Intelligence and wisdom are two different things though, no matter how clever the man was he clearly doesn’t know much about human nature and society. Many academics don’t, which is why their pronouncements about the world at large are often pretty silly in their understanding.

I do sometimes wonder about the wisdom of living in a world where people who are racists have to hide their stupid opinions. By putting prejudice and racism in the closet so to speak, we have created a world where racism is still very real, it’s just disguised. Like cocaine laws in the USA that send crack users to jail for vastly longer sentences than people who use cocaine in powdered form, even though it’s the same drug. Heck, crack is the only drug in the USA where mere possession gets one sent to jail, hard not to see that as a racially motivated law. So I sometimes wonder if we might be better off allowing racists to openly profess their views, maybe then they would be quickly reduced to the tiny idiotic minority they are, rather than secretly hanging onto the reins of power.

By the same token people that are freaking out about the nooses that have been left around the country lately. Um, there’s a few nuts in every barrel folks, if we get upset about something like this it just gives power to the people who are doing it. The proper response when one finds a noose hanging in some public place is to roll your eyes, mutter “morons” under your breath, and throw it away. Calling your local newspaper so they can salivate about it is over reacting. I guess what I am trying to get at here is that a lot of the discussion about racism is based on accepting racism, which seems to be missing the point. IE thinking “Well, these nooses will offend black people, so it’s a big deal” presupposes that black people are all going to react the same way. Um, say what? Isn’t that a racist assumption?

Oh well, the world is full of terrible prejudices against very broad groups for very superficial reasons, more often than not encouraged by our so called leaders. Muslim friends assure me that if they go out in public in the USA wearing Muslim garb, they are guaranteed to get hassled and receive nasty remarks. In many people’s eyes if you’re a Muslim, you’re not really an American and you’re probably a terrorist. So much for land of the free, home of the brave. Oh well, it’s the same everywhere. I’d go on, but that’s enough for today. I also want to comment on why Africa is such a mess today, but that’s for another post. Hint: It isn’t because people living in Africa are stupid. Sigh.

Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image from the original Star Trek series, episode 70, is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It is a low resolution grey scale reproduction of a portion of the original marketing image, it is not being used for profit, and it is central to illustrating the post. Its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of Star Trek, and may even aid their commercial endeavours. Oddly enough, there is plenty of racism in Star Trek, despite Mr Roddenberry’s sincere efforts to imagine a world without prejudice. Read about racism in Star Wars and Star Trek here.)

 

Written by unitedcats

November 2, 2007 at 11:11 am

Posted in Philosophy, Science, World

10 Responses

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  1. Very nice deconstruction of Watson’s racist remarks—and I completely agree with you about people keeping their mouths shut on issues that are outside their field! I don’t know why so many people assume that if somebody is proficient or even ingenious in one area, their opinions on politics/religion/human nature/etc. must all be of the same caliber as their “professional” field….! I suppose that wouldn’t be such a big deal, except that if you’re a recognized expert in one area, chances are you’ll act as if you were an expert in all areas. Watson (and Dawkins) are perfect examples of this.

    gukseon

    November 2, 2007 at 6:18 pm

  2. Nooses are a very big deal, Doug. They are an implicit death threat. You may choose to ignore that kind of thing, but it is not idle when you consider the strange fruit that have been found on trees in the past in those parts of the country.

    whig

    November 3, 2007 at 2:34 am

  3. Doug,
    Fantastic post. One of my favorite science writers a neurologist called VS Ramachandran, said this in an article

    He also says there is no evidence to suggest different groups of people differ in intelligence just like skin color and nose size, however you cannot rule it out. 1000 years ago Jews were money lenders whereas Arabs were scholars. See how things have changed today. The chances of a Noble Prize if you are a Jewish (rather than a Gentile, White) is 50:1 !!!!!

    In US they say Africans have lower IQ than the whites by 10-15 points, while the Chinese settled in US have a greater IQ by 10-15 points. Americans say, Chinese have higher grade because they are hardworking whereas if the Africans get 15 points less they attribute it to the genes. This is double standard and hypocrisy.

    archanaraghuram

    November 3, 2007 at 2:55 am

  4. something related to “why smart people should keep their mouths shut about stuff outside their field of expertise” is mentioned as “4, Rampant cross-confidence” in article:

    “The Seven (Bad) Habits of Highly Intelligent People”

    copy of article is here: http://kyberia.sk/id/2051703 (could not find original)

    psycho

    November 4, 2007 at 5:30 am

  5. Psycho, I think that article is at least partly tongue-in-cheek, being published by a Mensa chapter, or if it isn’t it is at least ironic.

    whig

    November 4, 2007 at 10:00 am

  6. There was a response to Watson in the Independent. IQs have been rising over the past decades. That can’t be genetics, unless people want to argue that intelligent people have far more babies than they are recorded as having.

    Here’s another article on increasing IQ.

    As well as education, you shouldn’t underestimate improved health care — especially in the early years.

    misterlister

    November 11, 2007 at 2:26 am

  7. Actually I think his comments are very acceptable and people should learnt to stop being so sensitive about intelligence.No one other than 300+ African American men have ever run the 100 meters in under 10 seconds……so what!?I can accept that they are faster sprinters and so can the world.

    So why then if it is suggest that one race is more intelligent(I believe that it may be the ashenkai jews or something who seem to have the highest IQs) is everyone is up in arms!?Any open minded individual can see patterns in all this……..what races were virtually all the inventors from?who’s in the giga society(for highest IQs ).Why are do these patterns exist?Who cares, they may change in the future due to the underlying factors but for now african americans are not usually as smart as the other races.I don’t believe I am racist in saying that, and I feel that most people would agree if they did not fear being called racist.

    I’m Irish and I see we score lower than most on the IQ ranked by country index and yet I will accept that as I am a rational man and can see how it could be.

    O

    October 8, 2008 at 10:55 am

    • Watson studied DNA, thus this is right up his alley. We are talking about evolution and heredity arent we? History for the last few thousand years, is very different for those from different areas of the world. In some areas physical prowess is most important, in other areas, being a good thinker is a more desired trait. Also keep in mind during the slave-breeding era, a less intelligent, yet stronger slave was desired. Hence black people are greater athletes (in nearly all sports) while textbooks are filled with accomplishments of white (european and american) physicists, scientists, and doctors. Also the medical facts are black people have 5% smaller brains, while asians have 1% larger brains. There is also quite a large IQ gap. An intelligance gap does not indicate a deficit of a race.
      To deny the fact that an intelligence gap exists anti-evolution, a step in the wrong direction, and irrational.

      Kalvin Langderno

      April 24, 2010 at 12:12 pm

  8. Dumb post from someone who has no clue. Watson is an expert on DNA and what he said is correct, even if unpopular.

    sem

    August 10, 2012 at 11:48 am

    • Another demonstration that name-calling is the first and last refuge of those who can’t construct a logical argument. — Doug

      unitedcats

      August 10, 2012 at 6:58 pm


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