The past week saw the greatest controversy in a year ignited by the seemingly racist comments of the 79 year old Nobel Laureate James Watson.
Watson who shared his Nobel with Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins for the discovery of the Double-helical structure of DNA, had always been at the helm of controversies mostly b’coz of his fascination for Eugenics.
The latest of his comments on intelligence and race came in an interview in Sunday Times on Oct 14.
He says that he is “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” and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
He adds that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “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”.
Watson was quick to apologize for his biased and baseless comments once the interview became controversial and his credibility challenged not just by the general public, but the scientific community as well.
He said …”to all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.”
But whatever he said now, the damage has been done. Watson’s claims on “evidence” regarding intellectual levels of races have given the right wing neo-conservatives a chance to reiterate their anti-reservationist, anti-pluralistic demands toppling political balance everywhere.
Watson knows very well that there aren’t any statistically significant evidence to suggest that there are genetic differences in intelligence among human races identified in studies yet. In fact the last part of what is quoted as his statement (about the possible differences in the evolution of intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated) may be quite plausible, but reading Watson in the context that he himself has set up through his eugenic rantings in his “post Nobel” years reveals a “prejudiced” man.
The funniest part is in two simple but powerful facts of neurobiology and cognitive science:
- there are as yet no IQ tests that are perfectly culture-free and context-independent which can be administered universally to all sects of Homosapiens
- no genes identified yet have been directly linked to any kind of animal intelligence.
Without satisfying these two ideal conditions, it is scientifically impossible to extract objective evidence regarding intellectual inferiority and superiority at the genetic level.
Page 3 Tag: Watson’s own reputation had been under question for long when new revelations about the role of Ms. Rosalind Franklin in the ‘DNA helix discovery’ and how her data was used in the discovery without giving her any credits came out. Story goes that Ms. Franklin was ungratefully excluded from the Nobel winning work after Watson and team “stole” the data from Ms. Franklin. Ever since the allegations came up, Watson had been attacking Ms. Franklin (even after her death) passing comments on her being intellectual but autistic and so on.
The Sunday Times interview is here.
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