Saturday, October 20, 2007

Watson issued more of a clarification than an apology

++Addition++Steve Sailer's new VDare column takes note of Watson's clarification-rather-than-apology as well, and he improves on the basic thrust of my post below in several other ways. Hopefully his readership range is expansive enough for it to be noted widely.


James Watson was suspended from his administrative position at a respected research center and a speaking engagement at the London Science Museum for a few comments that are grounded in decades of evidence. The difference between sub-Saharan Africans and those of European descent is on average about two standard deviations, a gap that is seen in multiple tests, across multiple countries. Watson, who was suspended by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (I wonder if the organization will change the name of its "Watson School of Biological Sciences"), a research and educational campus in New York, hardly backed down in the torrent of criticism. The statement he issued is more of a clarification of what he meant, a general apologetic rather than an apology:

Science is no stranger to controversy. The pursuit of discovery, of knowledge, is often uncomfortable and disconcerting. I have never been one to shy away from stating what I believe to be the truth, however difficult it might prove to be. This has, at times, got me in hot water.

Rarely more so than right now, where I find myself at the centre of a storm of criticism. 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. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief. [my emphasis on the only portion of his public response that is being reported]

I have always fiercely defended the position that we should base our view of the world on the state of our knowledge, on fact, and not on what we would like it to be. This is why genetics is so important. For it will lead us to answers to many of the big and difficult questions that have troubled people for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

But those answers may not be easy, for, as I know all too well, genetics can be cruel. My own son may be one of its victims. Warm and perceptive at the age of 37, Rufus cannot lead an independent life because of schizophrenia, lacking the ability to engage in day-to-day activities. ...

In doing so, I knew that many new moral dilemmas would arise as a consequence and would early on establish the ethical, legal and societal components of the genome project. Since 1978, when a pail of water was dumped over my Harvard friend E O Wilson for saying that genes influence human behaviour, the assault against human behavioural genetics by wishful thinking has remained vigorous.

But irrationality must soon recede. It will soon be possible to read individual genetic messages at costs which will not bankrupt our health systems. In so doing, I hope we see whether changes in DNA sequence, not environmental influences, result in behaviour differences. Finally, we should be able to establish the relative importance of nature as opposed to nurture.

One in three people looking for a job in temporary employment bureaux in Los Angeles is a psychopath or a sociopath. Is this a consequence of their environment or their genetic components? DNA sequencing should give us the answer. The thought that some people are innately wicked disturbs me. But science is not here to make us feel good. It is to answer questions in the service of knowledge and greater understanding. ...

In some cases, how these genes function may help us to understand variations in IQ, or why some people excel at poetry but are terrible at mathematics. All too often people with high mathematical abilities have autistic traits. The same gene that gives some people such great mathematical abilities may also lead to autistic behaviour. This is why, in studying autism and schizophrenia, we believe that we shall come very close to a better understanding of intelligence and, therefore, of the differences in intelligence. ...

The overwhelming desire of society today is to assume that equal powers of reason are a universal heritage of humanity. It may well be. But simply wanting this to be the case is not enough. This is not science.

To question this is not to give in to racism. This is not a discussion about superiority or inferiority, it is about seeking to understand differences, about why some of us are great musicians and others great engineers.

These are not the words of a man who has prostrated himself in front of accusers.

Many media sources, eager to have the inconvenient truth spoken of by Watson buried, portray him now as someone with great compunction for an accidental slip of the tongue.

That's how the story is supposed to go: A public figure says something deemed intolerable, Good People in similar public positions react hysterically, and the mutterer meekly apologizes, throwing himself on the mercy of the court. Watson did not complete the third step, so the media have taken it upon themselves to make it appear as though he did, virtually all of them quoting only a couple of sentences of his lengthy issuance, as the NYT did (even meshing sentences together without indicating, through ellipsis, that they were separated by other verbiage):

In a statement given to The Associated Press yesterday, Dr. Watson said, “I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said. There is no scientific basis for such a belief.”
That's intentionally misleading. As the detailed excerpts above indicate, Watson says he was surprised at how he said what he said, and that if it were interpreted to mean that all of Africa is genetically inferior, he sees no evidence for what would essentially be a moral judgment. But he did not say there was "scientific basis" for the intelligence gap.

Sub-Saharan Africans are, on average, faster runners than Europeans, and less likely to get melanoma. Those, like the European advantage in intelligence, do not constitute moral judgments. The 'inferior' genes are those of the Neanderthals and of the men who lived alongside our chromosomal Adam some 60,000 years ago.

Galileo's Letter to the Grand Duchess is relevant here. The contemporary Starry Messenger wasn't just recently written by Watson, though--it's been extant for a century. But even as the pugnacious Galileo felt the heat and had to endure blather on deferents and epicycles, support for his position (and the kindling of a languishing Copernican 'controversy' that would finally come to fruition eighty years later) existed among many of his contemporaries, including those in the Church like the Archbishop of Siena and for a time even Pope Urban VIII. Galileo didn't make the heliocentric system work, nor did his observations alone describe it fully, not by a longshot. Even the "father of science" needed help.

The momentum of veracity is growing today as well, with the HapMap Project, the academic work of men like Lynn, Jensen, Flynn, and Murray, the eager experimentations of people like Craig Venter (who Watson is not too fond of!), the open nature of communication facilitated by the internet, and the bloggers who've excelled using it, like Steve Sailer and the guys at GNXP. The myth of Zero Group Differences that even now seems so frustratingly impervious at the popular level, will soon be dispelled, and the most vociferous purveyors of it relegated to the annals of shame, alongside Cosimo Boscaglia, the first notable to suggest Galileo a heretic (although his protestations, politically-motivated as they may have been, were more genuine than most of the ones that are today directed at Watson).

A more noteworthy aspect of Watson's remarks is how there appears to be no level of credentialism that demands a fair hearing when human biodiversity is the subject at hand. Watson, a Nobel prize winnder with a litany of achievements, truly a scientific pioneer, is no match for the High Council. No public figure may tread where Watson did without vicious efforts to assassinate his character and destroy his livelihood. No need to repudiate him factually, as that would invite a debate no one in the ZGD hierarchy wants aired. The evidence is almost entirely on Watson's side.

I've chronicled several associations between IQ and various social attributes: Infant mortality, life expectancy, obesity, livability, material standard of living, criminality, illegitimacy, unemployment, income, and wealth. I've yet to find one in which IQ trends in the pathological direction, with the arguable exception of fecundity.

The means to bolster the collective IQ of millions of sub-Saharan African children and lessen the prevalence of the sad image nearby are available. Watson is to be commended for suggesting why Africa in the hands of Africans and with the crutch of foreign-aid and Western political proscriptions has become more dangerous and destitute than it was when Rhodesia still existed.

The current approach is not working. The moral posturers who indefatigably enforce the omerta on the discussion of IQ variance are the true miscreants, not Watson.


Alton Fentermann said...

Watson isn't one to bend before the multiculturalist absolutists. The leftist myth of blank slate egalitarianism is so much bluster and intimidation. Like the socialists who tried to bully EO Wilson off the Harvard faculty, the activist blowhards who attack statements of the obvious won't be remembered well.

Watson's senility has been grossly exaggerated.

MensaRefugee said...

The means to bolster the collective IQ of millions of sub-Saharan African children and lessen the prevalence of the sad image nearby are available.


Y'know when I was younger and took a crack at Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman's et al books, I was frequently irritated by statements like "Even if most of a country's people must be in servitude, the nominal freedom of being able to leave one employer and go work for another is important" (not verbatim, obviously assuming both employers are tyrannical etc etc)

But the more I reflected on it - the more important it seemed, and I went from being irritated about it (and considering it a concession to socialists so there would be less heat on the authors back) to grudgingly seeing its value to actually seeing its value in some meta-variable sense.

One thing is the differences in what power exists in a society where people have that small, pithy ,but very important freedom and others that do not.

Consider - Bill Gates is the richest man in the world - but can he enter your house without your permission? Can the President of the country enter your house without your permission (at least under a more libertarian state, not the current declining loser USA)? No they cannot.

But under another system where everything is similar but people do not have the 'freedom' to leave one horrible job for another one - that would be a symptom of other underlying evil things - like the powerful having total power - simply not exercising it because they have time constraints like everyone else.

Global Point - little things matter.

Same deal with the quote above. It is too easy to say "Ok, we cant help Africa, so lets improve their nutrition and they will help themselves". I dont necessarily have a problem with it - but its a sign of the new tyranny - where we help others simply because we can, not because of the goodness of our hearts. A moral obligation, not charity. We are doing fundamentally the same thing that the liberals are doing - just a toned down version.

Rambling I know, but I hope I got you thinking :o)

John S. Bolton said...

The left stands to lose so much if science takes away from their egalitarian doctrines that they are willing make themselves look like a Jacobin mob scene attending the execution of Lavoisier. They have everything, all their dreams of power invested in the smear-equivocation-slippery-slope approach, describing racial hatred as behind everything that might block their latest grab for power.

Audacious Epigone said...


Unfortunately, most people aren't going to realize that he isn't going to bend. The story is being made to look like it's supposed to look like, what Watson actually said be damned.


Your comments always get me thinking!

I don't see it as fundamentally the same thing as those Watson criticized as doing, because the latter were not actually ameliorating the situation. Whether the response is seen as a moral imperative or just an act of voluntary magnanimity, its effectiveness is crucial. I'm hardpressed to think of anything that would be more beneficial, and on the cheap to boot.


Put all the eggs in one basket, and you really have to watch that basket. But if the basket isn't constructed based on sound engineering principles, the eggs are going to break sooner or later anyway.