SHOULD A NOBEL WINNER CALL BLACKS INFERIOR?

Remember James Watson. He won a Nobel Prize for his part in unravelling DNA.

He has just caused a furore in Britain. In a newspaper interview he said Western policies toward African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He told The Times of London that there is a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees know this is not true.”

In a book just published Watson writes: “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.”

Many groups in England were outraged by Watson’s remarks. The spokesperson for a black human rights group said: “It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint.” The remainder of Dr. Watson’s British book tour has been cancelled.

Do you consider Dr. Watson’s comments racist?

Should they be part of an academic debate or should they be prohibited?

Update

Today (Oct. 25) it was announced that Dr. Watson has resigned as Chancellor of the prestigious scientific laboratory on Long Island that he put on the academic map.

5 Comments »

  1. 1
    Chimera Says:

    “Do you consider Dr. Watson’s comments racist?”

    Not necessarily. Not the words in the third paragraph, anyway. In the second paragraph, his words have been condensed and paraphrased, and I don’t know exactly what he said. But consider the direct quote:

    “‘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.'”

    None of the higher species has ever evolved identically within the species if some of its member groups are scattered over a large area. And this goes for physical characteristics as well as intellectual characteristics. Each group evolves according to its environmental needs. This was one of Darwin’s premises, I think.

    Some years ago, in a large city somewhere in the southern United States (I think — it’s been awhile), all the students in one grade of one high school were given an “IQ” test. The white kids did very well. The black kids not so much. This anomaly was being used to argue against racially integrated schools…clearly the black students weren’t as smart as the white kids.

    Until someone who wanted integration devised another test, and gave it to the entire group of students again. This time, the black students did extremely well, and the white students failed miserably.

    It was the same test.

    What was the difference? Terminology and language. The first test had been couched in language with which the black kids had no relationship. The second test was written in the vernacular of their surroundings, and the white kids didn’t understand it.

    The key word in that direct quote from Watson is “identically.” He didn’t say that one group of people doesn’t have the same potential or capacity — just that they don’t evolve identically.

  2. 2
    Barbara Says:

    Taking remarks out of context is dangerous. One would have to read his entire thesis.

  3. 3

    Chimera:
    Your thoughtful comment suggests to me that you think Dr. Watson’s views should be debated, not prohibited. It is always dangerous, I think, to suppress views that are not congenial to one’s peers.

    Barbara:
    Sadly, I did not have access to the book, only the London Times.

  4. 4
    Joanne Nicholls Says:

    I think that censorship is a dangerous thing. There always have been and always will be attitudes like this out there. But, when they emerge, it makes for good conversation and debate to remind us of the type of society that we do not want.

    Besides, who decides what would be prohibited and what would not be?

  5. 5
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    I.Q. tests are unriable when comparing groups from different regions or continents since they are standardized according to cultural data. Hence the one test applied out of the region of standardisation will give differing results calling for a different interpretation. Chimera is perfectly right and I guess Dr Watson would have stood corrected by Sherlock Holmes had he been present.


RSS Feed for this entry

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: