The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.
The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson’s remarks “in full”. Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”. He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: “There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”
1) This isn’t surprising coming from Watson. He has a long track record (one story from someone who has done research at Cold Harbor is just that, but many is a trend).
2) I’ll be interested in seeing what he says in the book. I hope it is a bit more nuanced, seeing as not everyone in the First World is the same race. There are some black and brown people who are citizens of Western nations after all! Does his “our” include us? Who exactly is we Dr. Watson?
3) There are sensitive topics that are best spoken of clinically, bandying about anecdotes about black employees really won’t cut it. That’s low hanging fruit for Steve Rose. Seriously.
4) That being said, Watson is not a racialist, just as W.D. Hamilton was not racialist. He’s just really blunt (or stupid or off his meds depending on how you look at it) and he is offering his opinion on what he believes to be the most parsimonious explanation for the variation he sees in the world out there. Is he wrong? Is he too much of a geneticist so that there is always nail ready for his hammer? Perhaps. I’ve said as much about W.D. Hamilton. Nevertheless, Watson’s views aren’t that exceptional. There are many other biologists who would view Watson’s evaluation of the issues in regards to intergroup differences as reasonable, whether they agree with him or not. Not because they have a particular racialist impulses, but because evolutionary biology implies the plausibility of human variation on a host of traits. Including behavioral and cognitive traits.
5) A snip from the article:
Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University and a founder member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, said: “This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically.”
Ah, alas, the time for show trials is over comrade Rose. Now, here is something to repeat five times before breakfast: legal equality is not contingent upon biological equality, is does not necessarily imply ought and natural does not necessarily imply good. These are old lessons, centuries old, but it maybe that we have to learn these simple lessons again in the interests of a liberal order. What we hold to be good, true and right is not good, true and right because the world is as it is, but because it is what we wish it to be. And for us to most efficiently attain what we wish we must wrestle what what is. Live not for the fashions of the day, honor the timeless truths of nature.
Addendum: Watson’s new book is titled Avoid Boring People. Well, at least he’s trying to contribute to the trend he’s promoting.