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posted by LaminatorX on Tuesday December 02 2014, @10:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the come-here-I-need-you dept.

Nicholas St. Fleur writes at The Atlantic that in the sad final chapter to a career that traces back to racist remarks he made in 2007, James Watson, the famed molecular biologist and co-discoverer of DNA, is putting his Nobel Prize up for auction, the first Nobel laureate in history to do so. Watson, best known for his work deciphering the DNA double helix alongside Francis Crick in 1953, made an incendiary remark regarding the intelligence of black people that lost him the admiration of the scientific community in 2007 making him, in his own words, an "unperson". That year, The Sunday Times quoted Watson as saying that he felt “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.” Watson added that although some think that all humans are born equally intelligent, “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.” Watson has a history of making racist and sexist declarations, according to Time. His insensitive off-the-cuff remarks include saying that sunlight and dark skin contribute to “Latin lover” libido, and that fat people lack ambition, which prevents them from being hired. At a science conference in 2012, Watson said of women in science, “I think having all these women around makes it more fun for the men but they’re probably less effective.” To many scientists his gravest offense was not crediting Rosalind Franklin with helping him deduce the structure of DNA.

Watson is selling his prized medallion because he has no income outside of academia, even though for years he had served on many corporate boards. The gold medal is expected to bring in between $2.5 million and $3.5 million when it goes to auction. Watson says that he will use the money to purchase art and make donations to institutions that have supported him, such as the University of Chicago and Watson says the auction will also offer him the chance to “re-enter public life.” “I’ve had a unique life that’s allowed me to do things. I was set back. It was stupid on my part,” says Watson “All you can do is nothing, except hope that people actually know what you are.”

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  • (Score: 4, Informative) by zocalo on Tuesday December 02 2014, @11:29PM

    by zocalo (302) on Tuesday December 02 2014, @11:29PM (#122056)
    Heritability of IQ []
    Race & Intelligence in the US [] (Rushton & Jensen in particular)

    Plenty of linked papers and other citations there I looked at when the claims were originally made, but many seem to be posited on using an IQ test as a metric which many consider dubious at best and I'm not going to make any statements on how valid the work might be because I haven't read any of them in depth, but there does seem to be a fair bit of consistency in the findings that backs up the core point of Watson's claim. Fact is that *someone* has to come bottom of any given league, and if the current leagues put Africans there and that was what Watson was expressing, then perhaps he is really just a victim of political correctness and a poor choice of words over a taboo subject (he does long established track record there).

    The deeper question here is how far down the slippery slope of sensitive subjects like this do we want our scientists to go, bearing in mind that they are almost certainly going to have to discuss that subject in quite frank terms as part of their work? Different subsets of the population *do* have different genetics, diet, upbringing and other societal factors that bring problems specific to those differences, Sickle Cell Anaemia for instance, and it's only by researching why that is that we are going to be able to understand the cause of that any maybe do something about it. Some of those issues are almost certainly going to be emotive in our overly politically correct world, particularly when they touch on historical (and not so historical) abuses or are more abstract concepts like intelligence, but if we are not careful scientists are not going to want to work in fields that really do need research to be undertaken for fear of being branded as bigots.
    UNIX? They're not even circumcised! Savages!
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  • (Score: 1) by jcm on Tuesday December 02 2014, @11:55PM

    by jcm (4110) on Tuesday December 02 2014, @11:55PM (#122063)

    In fact, IQ is a way to measure our western culture.

    We focus on our ability to solve problems with our brains, so we value our ability to think logically.
    The other cultures value other parameters, like social proximity, which mostly disappeared in our western culture (and that's why people are attached to the fake relationships in Facebook).

    This clearly appears in the way we treat time, with monochronic and polychronic cultures: []

    Some western scientists decided that intelligence (what kind ?) can be measured with logic tests, because it's easy to measure and because they are good at them, since they are clever, after all.
    People who are not interested in these tests are clearly idiots !
    Sadly, some countries like South Korea have put the IQ bar very high, so they are already beating us at this game.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03 2014, @04:48AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03 2014, @04:48AM (#122128)

    > Fact is that *someone* has to come bottom of any given league,

    What? It is a huge leap to go from "someone" to "this group of people defined by their skin color."
    Why skin color rather than height or cranium size or blood type or any of a million other characteristics?

    • (Score: 2) by zocalo on Wednesday December 03 2014, @09:32AM

      by zocalo (302) on Wednesday December 03 2014, @09:32AM (#122175)
      It not really a leap so much as a function and natural result of how this *particular* league table was defined in the first place. You could (and people have) just as easily draw up a similar league table based on any other suitable demographic that you care to pick (height, cranium size, blood type...) and look for a correlation with IQ there too, and no doubt those at the lower end of the table would take exception to it as well. The issue here is that the league table in question was based around ethnicity and because blacks came out bottom it is seen as discriminating against blacks and cries of racism abound (no doubt made far worse by the history there) regardless of whether the method and results are demonstrably valid or not.

      Other than perhaps religion (for which similar research [] has also been done) I can't think of a divisor more likely to prompt an automatic outcry and ostracism on this kind of level without any real kind of consideration of whether or not the statement is, in fact, an accurate, albeit extremely uncomfortable, truth. I doubt very much that this would have even made the news if Watson's comments had been based around some other far less sensitive divisor like blood type, or perhaps even if some other, less victimised, ethnic group had come bottom to the table. That's the slippery slope I mentioned; what is considered politically incorrect is growing by the day, and as it does so more and more topics are going to become taboo, with the risk that we might reach a point where scientists are afraid to work in fields that are crying for study in case they get accused of bigotry.
      UNIX? They're not even circumcised! Savages!
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04 2014, @06:45PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 04 2014, @06:45PM (#122657)

      Why skin color rather than height or cranium size or blood type or any of a million other characteristics?

      You have a point. But then, why not skin color?

  • (Score: 2) by TheRaven on Wednesday December 03 2014, @10:57AM

    by TheRaven (270) on Wednesday December 03 2014, @10:57AM (#122192) Journal
    The Race and Intelligence wikipedia article has been completely rewritten since I last looked at it and, unfortunately, now misses one of the most important graphs, which plots the distribution of black, white, and asian ethnic groups. The immediate thing that you gain from this is that, even if IQ is a good metric for intelligence and the data doesn't contain any biases, the vast majority of people of any ethnicity are in the area that overlaps all three ethnic groups that they investigated. This means that if you take a random black person and a random white person, it tells you absolutely nothing about their relative intelligence.
    sudo mod me up
    • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Thexalon on Wednesday December 03 2014, @03:21PM

      by Thexalon (636) on Wednesday December 03 2014, @03:21PM (#122259)

      This means that if you take a random black person and a random white person, it tells you absolutely nothing about their relative intelligence.

      That's hardly surprising: In just about every field of endeavor, the difference between groupings of humans is dwarfed by differences within that group.

      For example, on average men are faster runners than women, and the fastest men are faster than the fastest women, but the fastest women are faster than the vast majority of men. So even if it is true (and this is very questionable) that those of African descent are less smart than those of European descent on average, folks like Neil Degrasse Tyson are much smarter than your average white guy. And there's a similar variation in, say music performance - Bootsy Collins is probably the best funk bassist of all time, and black performers were on average better at playing funk than white performers, but Alan Gorrie is a far better funk bassist than the vast majority who try.

      The conclusion to draw is that prejudging somebody based on things like gender and race is not just morally wrong, it's factually wrong.

      As far as why African-Americans do so much worse than European- and Asian-Americans in academics, the most likely explanations based on current research have to do with (a) high levels of lead poisoning and other environmental health risks in the areas they tend to live, (b) lower parental income and ability of parents to be involved in teaching, (c) lousy schools compared to their European- and Asian-descended counterparts (schools are nearly as racially separated now as they were before Brown v Board of Education), and (d) being too smart in school can make you a target for lethal violence in a lot of places in the US.

      The inverse of "I told you so" is "Nobody could have predicted"