Why no one wants to hear from James Watson

I don’t know, Cynical provocateurs who are too clever by half still piss plenty of people off.

But Watson does seem to believe that many forms of behavior – such as “Jewish intelligence” (his phrase) and the basketball prowess of black men in the NBA (his example) – could, possibly, be traced to genetic differences among groups 1

Sweet! I’m off to the synagogue tomorrow morning to get me some of that “Jewish intelligence”! I wish I had known getting smarter was just a matter of converting to a different religion.

And herein lies the beauty of Science and the Scientific Method.

James Watson was clearly a racist jerk. He’s not alone in being unpleasant. Several advances in Science have been made by deeply unpleasant people. William Shockley, who got his Nobel for the discovery of the Transistor, was a racist and a eugenicist.Werner Heisenberg was possibly a committed Nazi (there is some uncertainty about this, ironically), and even the Internet’s favourite- Richard Feynman was an arrogant, brilliant, bongo-playing jerk to everyone around him who he felt were beneath him (which was nearly everybody, especially his poor grad students)

But from a scientific point of view, none of this matters. The mysteries of the universe are there to be uncovered by anyone, no matter what their politics, or their personality. If your hypothesis is correct, the entire universe will attest to its correctness with every experiment and every result.

On the other hand, it does not matter how prestigious you are, or how popular you are, or how saintly your views- if your ideas are flawed, then they will fail to be replicated and they will fall. This may seem unfair to people who believe in a just world, to those who want the “good people” to be right, to those who skip from “ought” to “is” with all the dexterity of an alpine chamois; but the wonderful reality of the Scientific Method is that it is wonderfully, brutally egalitarian. What is, is. And that does not change.

Even if you’re a complete fucking jerk.


To get a complete statement, replace “several” with “many” and “Science” with anything . A large number of talented scientists, philosophers, writers, painters, musicians, etc., were not very nice people. That doesn’t diminish their contributions.

Of course, some of these talented scientists, philosophers, writers, painters, musicians, etc., used their considerable influence to directly screw over individuals or even entire groups of people (Soviet mathematician Lev Pontryagin immediately springs to my mind). It pays to remember that.

This is quite a bit less clear-cut than it seems. While the scientific method does not play favorites, it is the people who actually decide what constitutes a worthwhile or a worthless idea. It is the people who apportion the credit, who review/publish papers, and who make the hiring decisions. Ideally, one would hope that good science triumph over bad prejudice, but in reality it does not.


I would say the difference between your views is measured in decades if not centuries, rather than degree.

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Not exactly certain what you’re driving at. We know that different races have physical differences, because we can see them. We know that different races have genetic differences, because we can examine them. And we know that different races perform differently at different tasks, for example, the extreme dominance of West African descended runners in sprinting events. It seems that you are proposing that although there are known physical and genetic differences among races, to propose that psychological or intellectual differences could exist constitutes racism?

Another way to abstract it is to avoid IQ testing as a measure of intelligence, and to instead examine races under the lens of the theory of multiple intelligences: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_of_multiple_intelligences . Under such a model, is it fair to propose the possibility that different races might be skilled in different intellectual areas?

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What possible benefit of this “research” could you imagine that would come even close to making up for the dredging up of the brutal historical legacy, and inevitable unintended (and for many, totally intended) collateral outcomes of such work?


Getting the existing differences properly quantified in a multidimensional way, shown to be too meaningless to base policies on, shut up those who claim the differences are big enough to matter much, and serve as a base for genetics-capabilities correlations for future improvements by genetic modifications?

Do it, and do it bloody well. The precedents gone bad had sucking methodology and distorted results.

Supposing it might have been a theoretical possibility is fair. We all know evolution wasn’t required to make everyone equal, and they probably wouldn’t be if some subspecies like neandertals or denisovans survived.

Saying it is likely the case may be racist. It definitely demonstrates an ignorance of how hard people wanted to prove it, and how completely worthless all the evidence they could find or manufacture has proved, and just how many of the supposed differences are based on momentary prejudices. Sure, people now see East Asians as possibly genetically smarter, but only a generation or two ago they thought the opposite. Somehow it always tends to come down to trying to reinforce stereotypes, and no, that’s not an activity without its harms.

And finally, saying it is assuredly the case, after all everyone who works around black people can tell they tend to be less smart, maybe that’s why Africa is such a mess now that they’re in charge, is definitely racist. In fact it’s the completely standard-issue bigotry we’ve had for centuries now, and absolutely discredited as both incorrect and morally repugnant.

That’s all stuff Watson was actually saying, you know. It’s in the same comments you quoted, only for some reason you’re not acknowledging anything more than the just asking about possible differences between racial intelligence. Well, there’s one more example of how resurrecting that dead topic serves as way to paper over all sorts of racist crap.

If you were really interested in the question of differences between the races, you would do much better starting with the actual work done on the subject - and in particular, what the problems are - than trying to excuse someone for making bigoted assumptions about it.


Nobody is going to try to dictate policy based on one group of people being able to run faster, whereas both intelligence and psychology are significantly more fundamental. These are things people associate with being human, and bigots love nothing more than dehumanizing their victims.

It also doesn’t help that the people who advocate most vehemently for race-based differences in intelligence are members of the dominant racial group.

On a personal note, Scientific racism has a long and colorful past, and I would prefer it not have any kind of future.


“Hey,don’t blame me. I’m just asking questions!”


You can see them.

which you and only you ascribe to race. I happen to think the concetration of resouces on sprinting schools where the best runners are trained futher MIGHT have something to do with it. But yeah, it’s just their nature, not all the hard work. sure, uh huh. Riiiiight.

It must seem that way to you, however, what is being proposed is that fear is the mind killer.


Can you offer a counterpoint to the argument that West African dominance of sprinting events is attributable to race? I’m looking at the position regarding the ACTN3 “speed gene”, its association with West Africans, and its influence on sprinting ability. Or, if you agree, and don’t have a counterpoint per se, to let me know your perspective?

There’s a reply here that attributes West African sprinting dominance to the concentration of resources on sprinting schools, but I was hoping to hear your viewpoint.

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My opinion on the ACTN3 gene is that right now it is a departure from the topic of this thread, the bigoted and evidence-free stereotypes Watson was using when you said he “shouldn’t be dismissed.” I think it’s reasonable to ask you to acknowledge those first.

I mean, I’m happy to see genetic clines discussed; but if they’re just going to be thrown out as a way to ignore or worse try to justify the very obvious racism here, and all the harm it causes, I’d really rather not bother. Let’s deal with the important point first.


Yes, as I said previously: “Watson may have run his mouth insensitively, but he shouldn’t be dismissed.” I think he erred in making those statements, but I don’t think he should be branded with the scarlet R. And an example of Watson’s opinion on this topic that I don’t think should be dismissed is this statement made by Watson:

“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”.

My point with the West African sprinter example is that we do have reasonable data to demonstrate the connection between race and ability to perform a specific activity. That’s not a springboard to declaring that, thus, another race can be superior at intelligence, guess which one? It’s an acknowledgement that races are not identical.

The thing is Watson wasn’t simply using insensitive language, he was taking explicitly racist positions, and has stood by them. You ask that we not brand him racist, but that’s what the word means. And someone who can’t look past the crudest racist stereotypes is not someone who is going to be worth listening to about human variability, any more than a young-earther would be about possible problems with dating techniques.

Since you’re still only papering over that, I can only take it your position is that it isn’t appropriate to condemn this sort of overt racism. Hey, it might be better if it weren’t, but if it gives you an excuse to bring up things like how blacks are better sprinters that’s all that really matters.

And of course that’s not a springboard to talking about races with superior intelligence. No, you’re trying to use it as a springboard to talking about races with different types of intelligence. You’re not going to judge! You’re just asking questions. :unamused:

Well, I thought I’d be polite and give an opportunity to say otherwise, but you’ve made your priorities on this very plain. And there is going to be no point discussing any sort of human variability with you, either, if you can’t even bring yourself to care about bigotry and its use in place of evidence. So much for that then.


Yup. No sense in trying to discuss such things with someone who’s apparently a “race realist.”


Watson lectured at UC Davis in the 1977 as part of a regular series of Nobel Laureate lectures. In this case, he had just received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He spent a good deal of his lecture snarking about the ceremony and how he was loathe to attend, until he learned that Joe DiMaggio was to be a recipient as well. There was much leering at the women in the audience and similar remarks to those you mention. His “sense of humor” was sophomoric then as it continues to be. As a Genetics major, I attended with the newly-published second edition of “Molecular Biology of the Gene” in hand, hoping to have him sign it. I was, and still am appalled at what a misogynistic jerk he is. I never approached him for the signature, and threw the brand-new book away.


This simply isn’t true. Watson hasn’t stood by his statements. He has apologized repeatedly, profusely, and publicly:



It’s interesting that you bow out of the conversation at the same time that I make a well-evidenced point about an example of differences between races, while comparing me to a young-earther.

That’s good for Watson. Wish he’s stuck with it, instead of complaining how his reputation suffered because a reporter “somehow wrote that I worried about the people in Africa because of their low IQ - and you’re not supposed to say that”, which sure sounds like he was more upset about the consequences and is washing his hands of any wrong-doing. I guess we’ll see for him.

It’s not so good for you, seeing as how you started by defending his original remarks, and don’t seem to understand how “blacks are inferior” is anything worse than insensitivity on the way to an important look at what different races are good at.

But hey, misconstruing my reasons for not wanting to engage you further definitely makes me wish I could engage you further! Unfortunately, it would mean missing out on an important opportunity to train some sloths for the Boston marathon. I’m sure you understand.