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Race and Intelligence

Dr. James Watson has started up an old firestorm again. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Dr. Watson, whose work on the structure of DNA won a Nobel Prize back when it meant something, said that he believes Blacks are intellectually inferior. From CNN:

The eminent biologist told the British newspaper 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."

As you might expect, such a statement met immediate and extreme reaction from many sources, including the British government. I too am surprised that Dr. Watson would make such a statement, especially when Watson seems to base his opinion at least in part on personal experience with selected co-workers. Essentially, while I am no scientist, it appears to my unenlightened eyes that Watson saw certain data and read conclusions into them without considering all the relevant factors. At the very least, this should warn us against trusting too much the opinions of designated 'experts'. It seems to me obvious, that anyone can make a great fool of himself, and we should keep that in mind when considering the weight of someone's opinion.


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Comments (18)

Centuries of well establish... (Below threshold)
DaveD:

Centuries of well established cultural perspective being a barrier to the assimilation of Western European social policy???? Inability to establish our social policies in oppressed and materially bereft populations ruled by egocentric dictators???? Maybe these are not valid reasons either. But, lack of intelligence? Watson would have been just another Nobel-less crackpot without Crick and sneaking a peak at Rosalind Franklin's X-ray diffraction data.

There are some hypotheses t... (Below threshold)

There are some hypotheses that are so politically and emotionally charged that it is nearly impossible to examine them in a productive manner.

The idea that average intelligence may differ among racial groups is one of these 'highly-charged hypotheses' - another is that the standard deviation of measured intelligence varies significantly between men and women.

I think we lose something whenever we say "I won't ask this question because the answer may be unpopular, and I might get pilloried in the court of public opinion".

This feeling may be rational, though, in those cases where you can say "even if I identify a valid general trend, the negative impact of people misapplying it in particular cases will be large enough that I would have done more good keeping quiet".

When Watson won the prize w... (Below threshold)
nogo war:

When Watson won the prize with the K guy...forgotten was a brilliant woman who set it all up...
http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/webprojects2003/catterall/webproject.htm

Watson's opinion on Ms. Franklin as well to a reference to another infamous idea that homosexual DNA can be can be found in fetus DNA and women should abort them....
http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2007/10/james_watsons_race_row.html

Watson's opinion on Ms. ... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

Watson's opinion on Ms. Franklin as well to a reference to another infamous idea that homosexual DNA can be can be found in fetus DNA and women should abort them....
Once again nogo's link doesn't prove what it thinks it does.
From its linked article
and his musing on the fact it might be possible to abort homosexual babies
Hmmmm, so according to nogo, if someone responds to a question by saying, "Sure, it might be possible to do that." what they really mean is, "You should do that."

Hmmmm.... What I don't see ... (Below threshold)

Hmmmm.... What I don't see here is anything other than assertions that Dr. Watson is racist, by virtue of making a statement that draws a distinction between races, and therefore incorrect. I think it's worth considering that he might, in fact, be right. But there is no way to know unless the evidence for and against his contention are presented, and checked against reality.

Let's take it one step at a time:

1. Different races have different physical characteristics. This is inarguable, as otherwise how would we tell one race from another? There is a bit of a continuum in physical characteristics, particularly since as far as I know there is no such thing as a "pure-breed" human — we're all mutts to one degree or another due to history and the fundamentals of human behavior over tens of thousands of years — and so racial distinctions are somewhat, but not entirely, arbitrary.
2. It is likely that there are physically-based behavioral characteristics, as well as the obvious culturally-based behavioral characteristics. How likely? I've no clue, but I'd guess that with the prevalence of treatments for mental imbalances that cause behavioral symptoms, it's likely enough to be a given. Unless, of course, anyone wishes to claim that, say, anti-depressents are equivalent to snake oil, in which case we can pull out the evidence and look at it in detail.
3. If some behavioral characteristics are physical, and if two groups of people differ physically (not necessarily racially), then it's likely that, to the extent that their physical differences are associated with behavioral differences and are not cancelled out by cultural differences, their aggregate behaviors as groups would be different, as would their aggregate physical characteristics.
4. It is possible, given that intelligence is at least somewhat heritable (certainly observable in individuals, so why not true in aggregate?), that different groups would have different bell curves of intelligence (spreading out further, peaking higher, etc), and thus it is possible that the median intelligence of one group would be different from the median intelligence of another group with different physical characteristics.
5. If all that is true, as it appears to be, then it is likely that some races are, on aggregate, different in intelligence from other races.
6. However, given that I've known brilliant people and idiots, empathetic people and sociopaths, disciplined people and rabble from all races and creeds, I suspect that these physical aggregate differences are swamped by individual differences. So when dealing with person A of race R(A), it is not possible to know whether he is smarter or dumber than person B of race R(A) or person C of race R(C) — that is, you cannot treat individuals as if they were the median of the aggregate of whatever group you have categorized them as.
7. Given all of this, it is at least possible that Dr. Watson is correct in his evaluation of the root of Africa's problem, and thus worth discussing on the basis of evidence and logic, rather than name-calling.

Now, I happen to think that Dr. Watson is almost certainly right that there are differences in median intelligence between Europeans and Africans, to the small degree that these groups evolved distinct from each other. But I think he's wrong that that is the cause of Africa's problems: societies are ruled by their elites, and if intelligence gets you into the elite (and it seems to help) then the aggregate differences wouldn't matter on the far right of the scale, from which the elites of both groups are drawn. It is far more likely, it seems, that Africa's problems are more cultural than intellectual. As, for that matter, are the problems of Europe, the Middle East, America and in fact every distinct culture.

But, but, but he won a Nobe... (Below threshold)
Jo:

But, but, but he won a Nobel prize, he shouldn't be criticized, right?!!

Who would have guessed that... (Below threshold)
Master Shake:

Who would have guessed that BarneyG2000, nogo, mantis, jp2, etc. were all African and worked for Dr. Watson?

Master S...you figured it o... (Below threshold)
nogo war:

Master S...you figured it out...kudos..except...to my knowledge I never worked for this racist or supported him.
sorry for the links...I should have known most posters here don't even bother...I could link more specifics ...thought I would just pass on what an idiot this brilliant man is...
by the way...
Master...you think your DNA is not connected to Africa?

I wish I had a rubber stamp... (Below threshold)
Larry Sheldon:

I wish I had a rubber stamp that worke on blog comments.....

I have read "The Bell Curve". At some personal pain I have waded through that and many of the books that are related to it. And I have concluded that there is but one problem to be solved and this discussion will be done.

The problem: Define "Intelligence". Show proof.
("Define", in the same sense that "length", "color", and "specific gravity" are defined.)

Measurements of intelligenc... (Below threshold)
sanssoucy:

Measurements of intelligence are *a priori* fvcking retarded. Those of us who are merely smart discount them immediately.

I could link more specif... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

I could link more specifics but of course I won't because I can't because he didn't say what I said he did and now, I'm outta here/nogo.

It's interesting that when ... (Below threshold)
OLDPUPPYMAX:

It's interesting that when political correctness is involved, facts and evidence are immediately discounted. Perhaps Dr. Watson is correct, perhaps he isn't. But his theory is at least based upon some scientific information. Those who call him rasist have only a PC rule guiding their response.
Today we are being told that Islam is a "Religion of Peace." Facts demand a very different conclusion. How long should we allow the dictates of political correctness--that is, censorship--to create a self-imposed state of see, hear and speak no evil? In Dr. Watson's case, contempt for unseemly facts is unfortunate. In the case of Islam, it's downright dangerous.

Larry, did you really read ... (Below threshold)
SPQR:

Larry, did you really read The Bell Curve? Because Murray and Herrnstein spend some time on that very issue.

Well I never thought I'd sa... (Below threshold)
Kapow:

Well I never thought I'd say this, but.. good post DJ!

Maybe it's some latent nationalism creeping in, but as a Brit, I have always preferred Crick (the quiet, thoughtful, private one) to Watson (the brash, loud one that's always courting media attention). And as DJ so rightly points out, the opinions of "experts" should always be taken with a pinch of salt.

Regarding the issue at hand, it's worth noting that the differnces within racial groups is singificantly larger than the differences between them. Combine that with the wolliness of pyscholigy in general, and IQ tests specifically and I think the "scientific data" Watson points to is less than convicing. That's not to say that he won't eventually be born out. One of his comments struck me as particularly insightful:

"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."

What is certain is making a judgement on the data we have at hand today is unwise, to say the least.

The issue here is you have ... (Below threshold)
DB:

The issue here is you have a scientist who makes a wants sounds like a theory. However since it is not based on any real science, such as objective testing, historical data it is pure conjecture.

At least some of the women testing had data showing differing scores that one might extrapolate into some kind of theory that could be debated on facts and questions of the validity of testing.

He basis for this is

in the newspaper interview, he said there was no reason to think that races which had grown up in separate geographical locations should have evolved identically. He went on to say that although he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".
Well I am going to ask GW how is Ms. Rice as an Employee?

And the IQ of a liberal dem... (Below threshold)
Spurwing Plover:

And the IQ of a liberal demacratic buricrat is below a ants

"...to my unenlightened eye... (Below threshold)

"...to my unenlightened eyes that Watson saw certain data and read conclusions into them without considering all the relevant factors."

Data are what they are. We draw inferences from them on the basis of our evaluation of their reproducibility and representativeness. Dr. Watson has access to data neither you nor I, DJ, have ever seen. But the data we have seen are quite suggestive as well -- and they support Dr. Watson's inferences.

When Smith dislikes Jones's conclusions, one of his available tactics is to call Jones's data "anecdotal." That's ths usual response of persons determined to negate the implications of many decades of intelligence testing and society's practical trials of human smarts. But the same persons who raise the "anecdotal" objection are also vehemently opposed to the sort of systematic testing that would provide everyone with objective, verifiably non-anecdotal data.

Draw your own conclusions. I've drawn mine.

DJLooks like DR Wa... (Below threshold)
DB:

DJ

Looks like DR Watson is eating his words.
Dr Watson has admitted he has no scientific Basis for his claims.
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22617821-2,00.html

You hit the nail on the head, except you gave him the benefit of doubt that he had seen some type of study.

(Well maybe he did: A 1925 Army War College study concluded that because they lacked intelligence and were cowardly under combat conditions, blacks would never have what it takes to fly aircraft of any type.)

http://www.tuskegeeairmen.org/uploads/cgmB.pdf

Now because this dealt with the politics of race he was questioned. We should do the same to other Pseudo Scientific claims. Like Every second of every day, a slice of rainforest the size of (a 1-20) football field(s) is mowed down

However if you look at the facts
Landsat data indicate that 87.5 percent of the forest is still intact. Of the 12.5 percent that is deforested, one-third to one-half is in the process of regeneration, meaning that up to 94 percent of the Amazon rainforest is left to nature.

The same with other "scientific" statement about climate change and other items. Just because a scientist says it does not mean we most suspend critical thinking.

This is after all science not faith so let me see the facts, test and methodology used.




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