DNA Pioneer’s Astonishing Rant




Opinion.jpgIf James Watson’s chemistry won him a Nobel Prize for unraveling the double helix, his recent interview published from Britain in the Sunday Times promoting his new book “Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science” demonstrates how the pseudoscience trap can generate appalling conclusions. Worse, personally I think that James Watson’s views stand the risk of being quoted as ‘scientific’ by organizations like the Ku Klux Clan.

His published statement that black people are ‘genetically’ less intelligent than whites defies scientific belief. I am not aware of any conclusive studies performed by himself or anyone that demonstrates that differences in intelligence in groups separated by geography or time can be ascribed to genetic factors. Dr Watson’s statement is as ludicrous as suggesting that the descent of Europe into the Dark Age after the political collapse of the Graeco-Roman empire can be ascribed to a mutation leading to a dimunition of intelligence on a continental scale.

He further stated that he was pessimistic about efforts to raise the standard of living in Africa. “All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really,” Watson explained in the newspaper interview. He recognized that the prevailing belief was that all human groups are equal, but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.” He quotes the example of his recent inauguration of a DNA learning center near Harlem and stated that he would have liked to have more ethnic minority researchers at his lab — in fact he had “just accepted a black girl” — but “there’s no one to recruit.”

The British Science Museum last week had canceled his scheduled talk and made the following statement: “We know that eminent scientists sometimes say things that cause controversy and the Science Museum does not shy away from debating controversial topics. However, we feel Dr. Watson has gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are as a result cancelling his talk.”

I just wonder if the Nobel Committee can re-consider their early decision too. But its time we had a closer look at pseudo-scientific racial rants, which we thought had died out at the end of the second World War.

  • Ian Kemmish

    When I was young, “everybody knew” that men were more intelligent than women, and school and university exam results proved it. (Indeed when my college at Cambridge opened up to female undergraduates, they reportedly couldn’t find enough who had passed the entrance exam.) Now, “everybody knows” that the opposite it true, and school and university results prove that too.

    Prof Watson’s error – of reducing measures of intelligence to a single figure or merit – is one which everyone makes and – crucially – nearly everyone is comfortable with. So long as they think they’re not talking about race.

Sudip Ghosh, MD

Sudip Ghosh, MD, is a surgeon at the University of Manchester, UK and a medical writer.
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