Lecture invitation to Jim Watson rescinded because of remarks about race he made in 2007

Three years ago I had the chance to chat with J. D. Watson (yes, the DNA Watson ) for well over an hour, and it was an enlightening conversation spanning a lot of diverse topics (see my summary at the link). Watson has a reputation, rightly deserved, for being controversial, and he’s said a number of things that sometimes verge on the odious. The most infamous are his comments on race and intelligence given in an interview with the Sunday Times in 2007, reported by the New York Times in a 2007 piece article in 2007 and summarized in Wikipedia.  In short, he suggested that Africans had genetically-based lower IQs than other groups. That’s not the first provocative, hurtful, and unevidenced thing he’s said.

Watson’s statements, although preceded by a history of similar biologically-deterministic remarks, brought him down: he was universally vilified and forced to resign as Chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor National Laboratory. A number of speaking invitations he’d received were withdrawn. Accusations of racism have followed him ever since.  His name will always be associated with those Sunday Times remarks. I didn’t report this in my earlier post on this site, but Watson brought up the racism issue himself, and it was clear that he had been deeply upset by it, and felt blindsided and unfairly accused. I should add that he apologized for his remarks shortly after he made them.

But is Watson a racist? I don’t know. He is a biological determinist, and he took the phenotypic data on IQ differences as reflecting hard-wired genetic differences—an unwarranted assumption. We still have no good data on the genetic basis of ethnic differences in IQ. But certainly his remarks were unwise and hurtful. So if saying that performance differences are correlated with ethnicity is racism, then yes, he’s a racist. But I’m not sure that he bears a personal prejudice against blacks and favors discrimination against them (my definition of racism), though one can, I suppose, make inferences about that from his remarks about employees. At any rate, he should have kept his mouth shut, and Cold Spring Harbor had little choice but to fire him.

But now it’s 9 years on, and he’s still vilified, to the extent that a lecture he was going to give at New York University (NYU) has just been canceled because some student groups objected. Here’s a letter sent by the NYU lecture committee informing people about the rescinded invitation:

We are writing to inform you that the lecture by Professor James Watson, scheduled for September 12, 2016 has been cancelled. We received the attached letter that had been written by medical and graduate students at NYU School of Medicine to express their feelings regarding the invitation of Dr. Watson for this distinguished lecture. In the letter, the students raised the point that Dr. Watson had made public claims to diminish respect for black, female and obese individuals. We agree with the students that this runs counter to our mission of diversity and inclusion at NYU Langone Medical Center and have thus elected to cancel the lecture.

 We would like to take this opportunity to commend the students, deans, and faculty who have been involved in this discussion for their devotion to our shared community. At NYU, we have a strong commitment to equality as well as freedom of speech, and the right balance between these is not always easy to determine. While we may have differences of opinion, we also have tolerance. The Neuroscience Institute will be partnering with students and administration in holding an open forum on inclusion and diversity in the sciences. Please be alert to future notifications for this event as we invite all voices to be heard.

We enthusiastically join our student community in safeguarding an environment that promotes diversity and that respects all people for their capacity to contribute. We will continue to honor this moving forward in our selection of speakers, professors, and trainees and will seek to include a wide range of perspectives during the selection process. 

Sincerely,
The 2016 Llinas Lecture, Organizing Committee

And here is the letter that got the Organizing Committee to cancel the lecture:

screen-shot-2016-09-07-at-6-06-58-amWhile NYU had every right to decide whether or not to invite Watson, once he was invited I see this kind of cancellation as censorship. For one thing, I doubt that Watson would have said anything about race. Even if he’s bigoted, he’s learned to keep his mouth shut.

Second, I think he’s been punished enough, and deserves at least a chance to be heard. Losing the Chancellorship of Cold Spring Harbor—losing his job—is about the worst thing that can happen to a scientist, and although there was no option about that, does he deserve to be shunned and punished for the rest of his life? (He’s now 88.)

Finally, Watson still has useful things to impart, as I discovered when chatting with him. Now the students have no choice about whether they can hear him.

Should the students protest his talk? Certainly! They can have a counter-talk, peaceful demonstrations, and so on: that is the “free speech” that NYU claims it values. And nobody has to go listen to him if they want. But now there’s no choice, for Watson cannot speak. Note, too, that NYU is already organizing a “counter-forum” on inclusion and diversity in the sciences, while banning Watson. You can be sure that only one ideological view will be promoted at that counter-forum, and I doubt that anyone will defend Watson’s right to speak once he was invited.

This is censorship, pure and simple. If these students had their way, Watson would never be able to speak in public again, for he is tarred for life. And who knows—maybe he’s changed his views in light of the absence of data supporting his views on racial differences. His detractors have, in effect, given Watson a life sentence of being shunned for what he said nine years ago, and for which he’s apologized; and I don’t think that’s fair. Enough is enough. Student protest, certainly; student censorship, no.

128 Comments

  1. J.Baldwin
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    This may seem banal on my part, but his being disinvited appears to run counter to the idea of inclusion that NYU purports to uphold..

    • eric
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Yes, that’s one way of describing the difference between leftist and liberal; a leftist’s ‘inclusiveness’ does not extend to including conservatives (or anyone else who disagrees with the left’s ideas about race, gender, culture, etc.); a liberal’s does.

  2. eric
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Not sure I would qualify that as censorship, given that it’s an invited lecture. But its certainly a case of a University giving in to a heckler’s veto, which is not a good thing even if we don’t count it as censorship.

    You can be sure that only one ideological view will be promoted at that counter-forum, and I doubt that anyone will defend Watson’s right to speak once he was invited.

    A counter-counter forum! 🙂

    One possible solution (unlikely to happen, I know) would be for a student group at NYU to extend an invitation to Dr. Watson to come speak. As you say, all the people who protested the original invitation could organize their own non-disruptive protests and not attend, if they so chose. But the students would not be penalized because of the administration’s decision to cave to pressure.

    As an aside, that is one of the better requests for retraction that I’ve seen. I don’t necessarily agree with their goal, but I do appreciate the fact that in this case, the objecting students communicated their objections thoughtfully, clearly, and professionally. It goes a bit overboard in the last few sentences but up until then, they do a good job of representing their side.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      It’s a little weird, imo, to hold a counter-forum when there’s no forum to counter. Watson isn’t speaking. I feel like the “counter-forum” is either virtue-signalling and/or some kind of punishment for those who invited Watson to make sure they learned their lesson and don’t cross the authoritarian left again.

      However, I do think it would have been useful for those that invited Watson to have tackled this issue up front. They could have asked him for a statement about the issue and used it as part of the advertising for the event. That might have headed off the disinvitation at the pass. Of course, people still could and should protest (peacefully) his remarks; quite frankly, they’re revolting.

    • Zoltan Thuess
      Posted September 10, 2016 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      >>Not sure I would qualify that as censorship, given that it’s an invited lecture. <<

      Not really. True that not being invited is not censorship – but that's not the case here.

      The author above is correct. Watson was invited, accepted and then was disinvited – that would certainly qualify as censorship.

  3. Jonathan Dore
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    One wonders, given how well publicized Watson’s 2007 remarks were at the time and have been ever since, why the organizing committee invited him in the first place *if* they were the sort of people who would object to a speaker having made those remarks, and who would happily cancel on the receipt of a single objecting letter. It’s almost as if they invited him only to have the chance to disinvite him …

  4. Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Jerry wrote, “But is Watson a racist? I don’t know.”

    Anyone who believes blacks are genetically inferior to whites because of genetics is a racist. The end.

    Is being a racist grounds for being disinvited to a lecture/conference?

    I dunno? If I was having a gathering at my house, I would disinvite him.

    Carl Kruse

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I agree with your definition of racism, but the key word is “inferior”. Watson just pointed out differences that he claimed were biological. If you think a lower IQ makes one “inferior,” then yes, that’s racism. But does it? One relevant point here, though, is that the evidence for genetic differences was nonexistent; as far as I know, Watson was mistaking the phenotypic differences in IQ as based on genetic differences, an invalid conclusion. Did he know that? I have no idea.

      But then what do you do with Entine’s hypothesis, which one can’t immediately dismiss, that East and West African blacks are better at running events than members of other groups? Those other groups are then “inferior,” right? Does that make someone who claims such differences a racist? Is Entine a racist?

      The fact is that there are almost certainly genetic differences among human groups in various abilities, even if those differences are small and trivial. Denying that a priori is simply an ideological bias. But if those differences are found, does pointing them out make one a racist? I’m not so sure. I think racism involves differential treatment of ethnic groups. And if you want to rank things, well, even on a small scale, EVERY group will be “inferior” in some things and “superior” in others. You can’t rank entire groups as genetically superior or inferior if that’s the case.

      • johnw
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        The problem isn’t with pointing out some observed correlation of belonging to a particular group with performance on a scale of some metric or other, the problem is with assigning a value to that correlation and performance. Though not necessarily harmless, it’s not as big a deal to make value-laden statements about simple things like running as it is to state that a whole continent of people, who happen to be very diverse but of a similar melanin concentration in their skin, are stupid and doomed to stay that way. Watson, who by all accounts has always been a little strange in the head, made statements that went beyond the pale. I guess I agree that NYU pulling the invite is essentially censorship, but he brought it on himself and I’ve a hard time feeling sorry for him.

        • Craw
          Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          I don’t think the issue is Watson’s feelings. Are we prepared to listen to ideas we dislike or not?

      • Craw
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:23 am | Permalink

        I think Coyne is smarter than most here, and he is likely smarter than I am. I don’t think that makes him better.

      • Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Note that even if Watson were correct, there are at least two policies that could result: one is that we let the disadvantaged groups suffer and sink because of it, or we could help them out, provide additional accommodations and assistance.

      • jacoxnet
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know what to make of your comments here. This guy is an out-and-out racist, and his comments are odious. Read what he said. This guy isn’t just saying that there is (or could be) genetically sourced, statistically significant differences between the IQs of different races. That’s obviously possible, though by no means demonstrated by any evidence. He’s actually saying these differences are readily apparent in everyday interactions with blacks (his “black employees” comment). It’s textbook racism. The guy is and out to be excluded from any kind of honor. He should never have been invited to a lecture for the purpose of honoring him.

        This is completely different from disinviting people who espouse controversial views. I’m all in favor of hearing diverse viewpoints, but no university should or needs to honor a guy like this.

        • Tarrou
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 8:19 am | Permalink

          Whether or not any race has a differential IQ than any other is a plain factual question. It has a scientific answer. It is either right or wrong, and does not imply any value in and of itself.

          Likewise, if a difference exists, whether or not it is noticeable to a layperson is a factual question.

          Intellect is not a moral attribute. It is like height. If one notes that a certain race is genetically less tall than other races, no one hastens to scream racism. The simple fact implies nothing about the moral value of the people it applies to.

          Now, it is true that racists will seek to paint the race they dislike as inferior in a multitude of ways, but denying the very practice of science on factual questions is no way to counter that. If Watson is wrong, we gain nothing by censoring him. Defeat him in open debate. Do the research. If he is right, censorship is doubly terrible, we hamstring science with politics, and cede scientific truth to the racists.

          • Posted September 10, 2016 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            The problem is that intellect, intelligence, IQ, and so forth, have no real meaning. We can measure how well as individual does on an “IQ Test”, or we can observe other behavior, without understanding much about the human potential of the individual observed. Gould’s Mismeasure of Man spells out what a dogs’ breakfast the concept of a discrete, measurable IQ is. The main thing we know is that the folks who design the test will do really well.

      • GM
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        But then what do you do with Entine’s hypothesis, which one can’t immediately dismiss, that East and West African blacks are better at running events than members of other groups?

        It’s not really a hypothesis, it’s more of an observation.

        With intelligence, we have the observation that IQ goes up once people from Africa move to Europe/North America.

        But the difference in athletic ability shows no such environmental dependence.

      • GM
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

        One relevant point here, though, is that the evidence for genetic differences was nonexistent; as far as I know, Watson was mistaking the phenotypic differences in IQ as based on genetic differences, an invalid conclusion. Did he know that? I have no idea.

        Did he really explicitly talk about genetic difference in IQ?

        What I remember was a quote in the spirit of “we think their societies can improve, but that assumes their intelligence is the same as ours, and it isn’t”.

        Which says nothing about genetics.

        IQ is in fact lowest in Africa.

        (It is also worth noting that it is not highest in Europe, for those who like to scream “Racism!” any time the subject is even touched on).

        However, that does not have to be genetic, and there are very good reasons why we cannot expect IQ to rise much in Africa that have nothing to do with genetics.

        The most likely reasons why IQ is low in Africa are environmental — this is the continent where the disease burden is highest, and that begins basically from the moment of birth. The organism spends huge amounts of resources on fighting pathogens instead of dedicating them to brain development.

        In addition, the educational infrastructure is at a very low level through most of the continent, and we know well that IQ is not something you are born with, you are probably born with a ceiling on your IQ, but then how close you get to it depends on how much you exercise your brain (in addition to issues with disease burden).

        So we have the observation that IQ is low in Africa, and some good explanations for why it is low. And we don’t see a readily available path out of the poverty/low-IQ vicious circle.

        Which makes the statement “We assume they can develop, but that’s an unwarranted assumption” not at all as outrageous as it would be if behind it was a claim of genetic differences in IQ.

        But we all know that even the statement that people in Africa are of low intelligence because of environmental factors will be sufficient to brand you as racist in the modern Western university.

        • Scott Forbes
          Posted September 7, 2016 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

          Some years ago, while debating the merits of Philippe Rushton’s arguments on race and intelligence, I stumbled across a peer-reviewed paper that showed some staggeringly low IQ scores reported from populations in sub-Saharan Africa (mean IQ scores in the neighbourhood of 70). I simply didn’t believe the data, thinking that not possible. In more recent years, for serendipitous reasons, I began studying the link between thyroid function and pregnancy sickness (pregnancy sickness is a proxy for thyroid function and iodine status). As I got deeper into the literature, I starting finding a large body of data on the link between iodine deficiency and intelligence. According to WHO, the single greatest environmental cause of cognitive impairment today is iodine deficiency: data from populations in rural China with severe iodine deficiency, for example, show IQ deficits of 11 to 12 points. Extreme iodine deficiency results in iodine deficiency cretinism: the phenotypic effects are enormous – the phenotype is similar to Flores Island man (dwarfism, microcephaly – there are also motor-skill disorders, multi-nodular goiter, etc.), and that has been suggested as an explanation (not proven) for the phenotype of the ‘Hobbit men.’ When I started looking at the iodine deficiency data, it was most severe in sub-Saharan Africa. Very high rates of iodine deficiency cretinism, and konzo were reported. Konzo is a neuroparalytic disease associated with bitter cassava consumption. It contains goitrogens that are cyanogenic glycosides and impair thyroid function. The severe iodine deficiency is due in part to low levels of iodine in the soil and the plant foods of the populations, and the fact that many of the foods, especially bitter cassava, yams / sweet potatoes / legumes / cruciferous vegetables are goitrogenic, a double whammy. All that changed when the World Health Organization started doing the work of the angels by implementing their salt iodization program in the 1970’s. It’s had remarkable effects. Prior to that, two of every three humans on planet earth suffered mild to severe iodine deficiency. That number is now one in three. You asked about a simple path out of environments that cause cognitive impairment. Well, one path (not the only one) is salt iodization. And all for just pennies a day.
          Scott Forbes

          • merilee
            Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

            very interesting, Scott.

          • GM
            Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

            I knew about cretinism and iodine, I wasn’t aware it was so bad in Africa.

            However, even if they fix that, chronic malaria will still be there. And the educational system will still be a complete disaster.

            So it’s not a simple as adding iodine to food.

          • Posted September 7, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

            Very informative comment!

            While reading Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”, one of the places that annoyed me was that the author found natives of New Guinea biologically more intelligent than Europeans, because the former were selected for higher intelligence while the latter were selected mainly for disease resistance.

            I imagined the following (fictional) scenario: Diamond among some mountain tribe, claiming that its members are more intelligent than people of European ancestry, while every other observer says that this tribe includes the dumbest people ever seen. Amidst the controversy, experts with chemical analysis equipment arrive. They find that there is practically no iodine in the tribe’s drink water and food, and diagnose its members with moderate to severe iodine deficiency. Diamond tries to look in another direction.

          • somer
            Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            Thank you that’s fascinating regarding the dissemination of /need for iodised salt etc more or less world wide. I gather iodine deficiency used to be extreme in Tibet and the himalayas generally and is not fully resolved – but on the map of global IQ scores it shows IQ in China as uniform.
            Also I read (John Reader, Africa: Biography of a Continent) that because humans evolved in Africa, the continent harbours diseases that had time to evolve to prey on humans and are believed to have originally developed in Africa e.g. bilharzia transmitted from water snails, Sleeping sickness (Trypanosomiasis) transmitted by tsetse fly, hookworms and malaria transmitted from mosquitoes). Sleeping sickness occurs only in the African Sahel. Most of Africa is either desert/extremely arid or tropical and because the continent is very ancient, the great bulk of it is very infertile soil – in places like Western Sudan and Chad fertile soil does not coincide with good water supply.

            According to Stephen Pinker (Better Angels of Our Nature) a repeat of the comparative Measurements of skull capacities of around 200 craniums of 19th Century caucasians and Africans were done after the death of Stephen Gould which appeared to show some greater brain capacity of the Europeans. However according to John Reader, there was a massive starvation of Africans in central and southern Africa due to a series of unprecedented droughts in the latter 19th Century. There is good evidence from case studies of modern famines and sieges that babies born to mothers who have starved during the whole of pregnancy have reduced cranium size and whilst those born to mothers who have starved in the last trimester are unaffected, the effects of starvation (ie including head size) are passed on to the grand children of the starved mother (various studies, most well known of Netherland hospital records post WW2)

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

              ” on the map of global IQ scores it shows IQ in China as uniform.”

              I suspect that’s simply because it’s plotted on a per-country basis. It shows all of Russia as uniform, too. And Alaska is the same colour as the rest of the US and fractionally different from Canada.

              cr

        • Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

          I agree, and I’ll add that many Africans have little access to education, and many are kept behind by bad cultures. There are Islam-based cultures, and there are others that are worse, believing in primitive demons and in restless dead that must be appeased by sacrifices or will go after the living. Try to develop your IQ in such conditions! I’ve recently read a book on African mythology. It mentioned that some tribes “associate Islam with urbanization, progress and enlightenment”. What stroke me was that, by all likelihood, in their particular conditions, this view was perfectly justified.

      • jay
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

        This is a subject loaded with thing that just
        “can’t be said”. And that is a problem for science.

        As pointed out above,it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a value judgement. No more than saying, on average many African groups are taller than some Asian groups. Not just height, but proportion (I used to be in the furniture design industry, and we charts of different physical proportions ,averages and standard deviation, for different ethnic groups. Is there any evolutionary mechanism that would allow substantial physical and even metabolic differences between genetically isolated groups, and yet rule out any neurological variation?

        The key issue is that everyone has the same LEGAL and SOCIAL rights. But not all individuals are equal (never will be) and statistical groupings by genetic makeup will probably find differences as well. In US colleges and in many business areas, some Asian groups perform, on average, significantly and significantly better than the average US American white. (Despite microagressions!) Is this genetic? Cultural? or more likely, a mixture of the two? And does having a higher IQ make you a better person…no. It’s just one more human variation.

        But no scientist can touch this, because the subject has become so poisoned. We’re allowed to look at differences in all other species, but almost like the creationists who view humans as somehow different from the animals.

        [For what it’s worth, this is one of the keys of ‘smart fraction theory’ which shows a strong correlation between percentage of high IQ individuals in a country and it’s success in terms of GDP and other markers]

        • jay
          Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

          ‘significantly and significantly’ should read ‘significantly and consistently’

        • Mike Steinberg
          Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:59 am | Permalink

          Exactly right – that’s the point the likes of Steve Hsu & Peter Singer have made – that the existence of group differences is an empirical question. Hsu writes:

          “it is important to note that group differences are statistical in nature and do not imply anything definitive about a particular individual. Rather than rely on the scientifically unsupported claim that we are all equal, it would be better to emphasize that we all have inalienable human rights regardless of our abilities or genetic makeup.”

          http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2007/01/metric-on-space-of-genomes-and.html

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I think the point is that you wouldn’t invite him in the first place. Since they seem to share your view, why did NYU?

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink

      Is it racist to believe that, due to inheritance, East Africans tend to make better marathoners, while West Africans tend to make better sprinters?

      • John Walsh
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

        No, but it is something of an oversimplification. You’re really comparing two groups that undoubtedly overlap in their performance and differ only at the highest performance level of a relatively simple metric that has undergone strong diverging selection for these groups.

        • Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:54 am | Permalink

          That argument has been made for IQ as well as athletic performance. And do you really KNOW that there has been strong diverging selection in these groups? How do you know that?

          • John Walsh
            Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:30 am | Permalink

            Sure, and I think has merit, though IQ has a much greater environmental component and is much more complex to attribute, imho.
            I’m not in any way an expert in African population genetics, but I do know that for the most part the elite runners of east and west Africa belong to different Y-chromosome haplotypes that separated a long time ago and that the populations they originated from live in parts of Africa that are very different (highlands and savannah versus rainforest lowlands) and they are descended from people that have lived in those areas for a long time. And the physiques of their elite performers are very different. Thus I assume diverging selection.

      • eric
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        IMO in Watson’s case he should have known the data doesn’t support that. That IQ performance disparities are genetic was an idea extensively discussed in the ’80s, with the publication of The Bell Curve and then Gould’s fisking of it in The Mismeasure of Man. The very bad and biased measurements of brain size etc. going back to the 1800s are pretty well known in science, and should have been known by Watson. That is – at least in part – what makes it racist.

        When genetic differences are grounded more in fact, then the ‘racism’ charge gets murky or stops being relevant. Men are, on average, taller than women. AFAIK nobody considers that statement sexist, because its grounded in pretty good statistics. More murky: is it racist to expect that an adult Sami (Laplander) can drink milk without digestive problems while an adult Korean can’t? Yes, that’s a generalization that could turn out to be wrong, but that’s also a generalization grounded in pretty good statistics.

        When you talk about sprinting vs. long distance, I doubt the statistics or genetics are there to support a solid conclusion one way or the other. But given that such changes requires thousands of years to propagate and that sports performance is influenced by a huge number of cultural and social factors, I’d have to say that IMO the most scientifically warranted provisional conclusion is probably that no purported racial difference in performance is real unless the person has some fairly solid genetic data supporting that difference. IOW based on the science we have today, I see the burden of proof as being solidly on the ‘difference’ claimants, not the ‘same’ claimants.

        • divalent
          Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:27 am | Permalink

          “That IQ performance disparities are genetic was an idea extensively discussed in the ’80s, with the publication of The Bell Curve and then Gould’s fisking of it in The Mismeasure of Man. The very bad and biased measurements of brain size etc. going back to the 1800s are pretty well known in science, and should have been known by Watson.”
          Um, you may have missed this:
          https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/06/14/steve-gould-gets-it-in-the-neck/

    • jb
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 6:53 am | Permalink

      Anyone who believes blacks are genetically inferior to whites because of genetics is a racist. The end.

      No, not really the end. There is a huge moral difference between believing that one group of people is inferior to another in some way, and treating an individual badly because of his membership in that group. Are you really blind to that distinction? Because that’s what you appear to be saying. I thought only religions endorsed punishing people for what they believe, rather than for what they do. But as John McWhorter has pointed out, anti-racism today has taken on many of the characteristics of a religion.

      Besides, what if Watson is actually right? If you won’t talk to him, or allow him to talk, then you are saying you don’t care, you don’t want to know. Again, more characteristic of religion than science.

  5. Joseph Stans
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Demonstrating once again the attendance and participation at a university does not improve the ability to think clearly

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      That’s definitely true. I once stepped onto the down escalator at a college commons, only to see a group of college students standing below, right at the bottom of the escalator, engaged in a lively discussion.

  6. Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    We would do well to remember the Herman Melville story, BILLY BUDD, FORETOPMAN, in which Billy, who has trouble speaking, strikes the ship’s boatswain, an offense for which the captain, who understands and sympathizes with Billy must, to preserve order on the ship, hang him.

    What our colleges and universities are doing is depriving the students of learning to form and express verbal response to issues that they disagree with, and substitute for this hard work the simplicity of either running and hiding or killing the messenger.

    Our society is moving to replace listen and talk with shoot to kill, and the implications for the future of our society and its founding ideals is worrisome.

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:43 am | Permalink

      I have just changed from “heerybull” (long story) to my real name, Alan Scott, as I really do want to be human flesh and blood to followers of the WEIT blog!

  7. Steve Brooks
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I don’t understand why performance differences couldn’t be correlated with ethnicity. Under certain circumstances, wouldn’t natural selection favor certain performance abilities over others, and couldn’t those advantageous abilities be inherited?

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      I remember discussions of that controversy on television, and in particular I remember hearing the view that even if it was true Watson still shouldn’t be saying it.

      • Mike Steinberg
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:23 am | Permalink

        ***I remember hearing the view that even if it was true Watson still shouldn’t be saying it.***

        Which seems an incredibly unscientific view. It sounds like the moralistic fallacy.

        “The moralistic fallacy, coined by the Harvard microbiologist Bernard Davis in the 1970s, is the opposite of the naturalistic fallacy. It refers to the leap from ought to is, the claim that the way things should be is the way they are. This is the tendency to believe that what is good is natural; that what ought to be, is. For example, one might commit the error of the moralistic fallacy and say, “Because everybody ought to be treated equally, there are no innate genetic differences between people.”

        It also reminds me of an article by David Friedman on ‘Who is Against Evolution’. Friedman made the point that some who claim to believe in evolution seem to attack anyone who points out potential implications, such as average group or gender differences.

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      There is an interesting hypothesis that higher intelligence among Ashkenazi jews (relative to non-jews and Sephardic jews)is attributable to genetic selection due to societal constraints on jews in Europe. I have no idea if there is any credible evidence but, as a non-jew, I do not feel offended by it. Some Sephardic jews get upset, however.

    • J. Quinton
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      The problem is that “African” is such a large population that making a sweeping statement like “African IQ is lower than other races” is… incomplete at best. Someone who is a scientist should know that.

      One might as well say something like “the average IQ of the Northern Hemisphere is larger than the Southern Hemisphere”.

      The “human biodiversity” crowd (i.e., the scientific portion of Donald Trump’s alt-right) loves to say that we need to get honest about the realities of genetic differences between humans. The thing that unmasks their racism is that they treat the part of the planet with arguably the most human genetic diversity (Africa) as a monolith. You wouldn’t learn from them that, depending on the African country of origin, African immigrants to the USA have IQ and career success comparable to Ashkenazi Jews and Asians.

      • Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        I work with a bunch of first generation African-Americans, originating in East Africa, Equatorial Africa (gentleman with the blackest skin I’ve ever seen) southern Africa and North Africa. I discern no difference in intelligence from my other colleagues (who are of European, East Asian, and South Asian descent, by and large.)

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 7, 2016 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

          Yes but – are they a group which has been(effectively) selected for higher intelligence?

          That is, are they educated professionals?

          (I’ve had colleagues of all races and they all seemed intelligent enough, too. But bear in mind they all had university degrees).

          cr

      • Mike Steinberg
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:56 am | Permalink

        ***they treat the part of the planet with arguably the most human genetic diversity (Africa) as a monolith.***

        @ J Quinton,

        True, although important to note that in terms of whether group differences might exist the existence of genetic diversity per se doesn’t tell us much. Overall genetic variation is mostly in neutral loci. Europeans do have less overall genetic variation than sub-Saharan Africans (~20% less), but they show more variation in hair color and eye color than Africans. Similarly, cold-tolerant Africans aren’t necessarily going to be more cold-tolerant than Inuit and most altitude-tolerant Africans won’t be more altitude-tolerant than Tibetans.

        What matters is the frequency of alleles that influence a trait, not overall genetic diversity. That’s something the likes of Davide Piffer has recently looked at on some of the known alleles.

        The US data on migrants from Africa is interesting. It might well be that some groups within Africa do particularly, well for example the Ibo and Yoruba.

      • Hector
        Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

        You do realize, right, that African immigrants to the USA are not a representative sample of Africans? Any more than Indian immigrants to the USA are a representative sample of indians. (Indians in the United States tend to be very high IQ and professionally successful, but IQ scores for Indians in India are abysmally low, on par with Africa).

        I’m not sure what the relevance of ‘Africa has a lot of genetic diversity’ is, here, to the claim that low African IQ test scores is due in part to genetic factors. (I don’t have any position on that). If low IQ is the ancestral condition, then the fact that Africa has a lot of genetic variation would be perfectly compatible with the idea that most of those genotypes are still associated with low IQ. And for what it’s worth, the HBD folks at the Unz Review are generally perfectly willing to acknowledge that there are particular African populations (the Igbo for example) with high IQs.

    • eric
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Is it evolutionarily possible? Yes. Did it actually happen? There doesn’t seem to be any clear, solid evidence of it. There are many confounding factors, of course, but despite them I think we can say one thing: because these factors make it difficult to answer the question, any genetic effect can’t be much bigger than them.

      An answer of “too noisy, hard to tell if there’s a signal” tells you that the potential signal you’re looking for can’t be very big in comparison to the noise sources.

      • Mike Steinberg
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        @ Eric,

        Well, there is some evidence if you look at psychometric tests, PISA, TIMMS, performance of mixed populations, whether countries can adopt and maintain modern economies etc. Davide Piffer has found a number of genes linked to cognitive abilities vary in frequency across groups. They’d have to identify far more though to make robust findings like they have with height differences between North & South Europeans.

  8. Historian
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Presumably his lecture would not have dealt with issues of race. Rather, he would have talked about his area of expertise. With the lecture being cancelled the students have denied themselves the opportunity to gain the insights of an historical figure and to ask him questions. Certainly, there must be many people with socially repugnant beliefs who have made major contributions to areas they actually know something about. If people such as these are denied the ability to talk about these areas then society and progress will not advance as fast as otherwise would be the case.

    Let’s imagine a counterfactual. Suppose Watson was allowed to speak. In the audience, a young student was inspired by the talk to go into a field such as microbiology or genetics rather than gender studies. Twenty years later, now an eminent scientist, the student made a discovery that changed the world. Alas, this can now never happen.

    Thus, Watson should have been allowed to talk. Protests against what he believed and may or may not currently believe could have been held in other forums.

    • Gareth Price
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Who knows what Watson might talk about? About 15 years ago I went to hear him give a prize lecture at UCL. It was based around some ideas he had about the peptide pro-opiomelanocortin. He began by saying that he was going to talk about something which he had a bee in his bonnet over and for which there was no evidence whatsoever. He then gave a bizarre talk about why redheads are unhappy and skinny supermodels shoot up on heroin.

      • Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

        To me, this is a far more serious reason to think thrice before inviting Watson (though not to disinvite him if once invited). I wish someone had recorded that lecture to post it on YouTube!

      • Doug
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

        Why ARE redheads unhappy?

    • Mike Steinberg
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:20 am | Permalink

      The lecture was going to be on ‘Stopping Incurable Cancers through Eliminating their Anti-Oxidative Defense’.

  9. Randall Schenck
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    There does seem to be a toxic atmosphere among some of the students that they could work on. Who is driving the train is not a question that need be asked at NYU.

  10. Posted September 7, 2016 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    This isn’t just about “not liking” the things that JD Watson says. It’s about deploying whatever institutional means we have at our disposal, to punish him for the fact that we are “not liking” what he says.

    It is a dangerous and self-destructive precedent to set, in a culture that is only capable of survival through its robust and public debate of ideas both good and bad.

    It is a cliché these days to raise the spectre of Orwell. But I am convinced that the New Left ecclesiastical orthodoxy descending upon the west is driving us off a cliff into a new kind of dark ages, the likes of which I do not think we will be able to survive.

    • Harrison
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

      It’s bigger than Watson. Disinvitation fever has swept the US and UK. I’m of the mind that universities need to either tell student groups to stuff it or else stop inviting anyone ever and let the students know that they’re simply not going to get the opportunity to meet with anyone important or influential because a fringe minority of whiners has decided we can’t have nice things.

  11. Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Watson committed two scientific errors, and one unforgivable PC heresy.

    Watson’s observation, 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.”

    is prima facie uncontroversial. For, without a significant genetic component to intelligence, the rapid increase in brain size & associated cognitive ability in hominids would be very hard to explain.

    Watson erred, however, by attributing whatever behavioral differences he observed (or merely surmised) among races as evidence of differing intelligence. He compounded this error by assuming that, were any actual differences to exist, they would be solely or primarily due to inheritance.

    Nevertheless, SJW dogma dictates that, of all the myriad human traits, intelligence is the only one whose etiology may not be attributed even in part, even provisionally, to genotype. (Just as gender identity, conversely, may not be attributed in any way to environment). Paradoxically, SJW dogma also forbids treating different cultures as anything but equal, leaving poor nutrition or sheer randomness as the only PC etiologies for variance in intelligence. Thus Watson, for all his flaws, was astute to note that

    ”Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so.”

    NB. The NYT article covering Watson’s apology included this mention:

    … in “The Mismeasure of Man,” Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, dismissed “the I.Q. industry” as little more than an effort by men of European descent to maintain their prominence in the world.

    Gould’s accusations in “Mismeasure”, of racially-motivated fudging, have themselves been exposed as politically-motivated fudging.

    http://journals.plos.org/plosbiology/article?id=10.1371/journal.pbio.1001071

    Of course, Gould’s science was always driven by his ideology — but as his ideology is harmonious with SJWs’, he continues to be adulated by them.

    • divalent
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:51 am | Permalink

      “Watson erred, however, by attributing whatever behavioral differences he observed (or merely surmised) among races as evidence of differing intelligence.”
      Not really. The differences in population average IQ among different groups is well documented, as is the finding that such differences are meaningful with respect to what IQ predicts in terms of ability to perform in the real world. The heresy Watson expressed is (as you said) that such differences likely are genetic.

  12. prinzler
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    While Watson may well have spoken problematically about race or other issues besides his 2007 remarks, that single instance was enough for the students to write their letter. So the problem here is essentialism and ideological purity. If you say one wrong thing, you are forever banned because you’re either with us or agin us.

  13. Travis
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    I don’t see how this qualifies as censorship. If the people who invited Watson (the Llinas Lecture Organizing Committee) had been compelled to disinvite him by some administrative body at the university, that would be censorship. However, in this case, the same group who invited him disinvited him, which seems like an exercise in free association.

    Independent of the question of censorship, one can argue that the reasons for disinviting Watson were odious, and I might agree. The blanket opposition to “ideological enemies”–whose status as such is earned by only a small fraction of their oeuvre–is intellectually lazy. However, disinvitation (by the group who made the invitation) even for bad reasons, doesn’t seem like censorship to me.

    As an analogy, suppose I owned a newspaper and invited PCC(E) to write an article in it. If after learning that he wears cowboy boots, I rescinded the invitation (it’s an anti-boot paper, don’t you know!), I doubt anyone would claim it was censorship. It might be boneheaded, but censorship? If, instead, the government forced me to rescind the invitation, that would surely be censorship.

    • fizziks
      Posted September 9, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

      It is censorship because of the assassin’s veto. The group that invited Watson disinvited him because of the implicit or explicit threats by other groups to make trouble, hound people, ruin careers, etc.

  14. Merilee
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Sub

  15. Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    Since Watson is unlikely to speak on race and intelligence, this action seems more about shaming and punishing than censoring.

    • cherrybombsim
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      This was my first thought exactly. It’s not a censorship of Dr. Watson himself. it’s more of a threat against anyone who might come to similar views in the future: keep your mouth shut, or you will be punished. Forever.

  16. Kev
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    I seem to remember Eysenck getting into similar trouble in the 1970’s, to the point of being punched in the face during a talk at the LSE, and bomb and death threats.
    At the time, the validity of IQ tests as a meaningful indicator of IQ was questioned, in that IQ may well be determined by many factors beyond genetics: cultural, social, economic, climate, nutritional, educational, age. The usual nature/nurture argument, not to mention the criteria used as a measure of intelligence, these tending to conform to the model of intelligence ‘nurtured’ by the researcher himself.
    Even if research were to show a correlation between ethnicity and IQ, how could you remove the above factors from the argument: too many variables.
    Correlation does not indicate a causal relation.

    • Mike Steinberg
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:30 am | Permalink

      There is an interesting interview with Hans Eysenck about protests he encountered. Eysenck, who moved to England in the 1930’s because of his opposition to the Nazi party, remarked that the behavior of the protesters was similar to what he saw in Germany (8.25 mins).

  17. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    … we have a strong commitment to equality as well as freedom of speech, and the right balance between these is not always easy to determine. While we may have differences of opinion, we also have tolerance.

    This namby-pamby, some-of-this, some-of-that, a-little-of-the-other-thing approach is great for cooking a pot of soothing chicken broth. But it ill-suits a free speech policy, where clarity and consistency are called for.

    I wholeheartedly endorse the concerns expressed in the Organizing Committee’s letter. It does not follow, however, that the withdrawal of Watson’s speaking invitation is the appropriate way to remedy those concerns. The demand that the university do so is based on the misshapen view that permitting someone to voice views on campus — or even permitting them to speak about any topic, so long as the speaker harbors personal opinions anyone finds distasteful — somehow “diminishes” those who disagree with the speaker’s opinions. The Organizing Committee is squandering an opportunity to instead use the occasion of Watson’s speech to highlight an important issue concerning racial equality and thereby to edify the broader campus community about it.

    This is a puritanical approach toward free expression that will disserve everyone’s interests in the long run. It would be an impoverished lecture series indeed, that can feature solely speakers whose opinions (public or private) everyone on campus already agrees with.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      “While we may have differences of opinion, we also have tolerance” – and this is why ‘we’ cannot tolerate the idea of letting Jim Watson speak?

      The irony is overwhelming, not to mention the hypocrisy.

      cr

  18. Tom
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    Self righteous fundamentalism.
    It really doesn’t need religion to spark it, any old spite will do.

  19. Sigmund
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    There was a Steven Pinker quote about racism on twitter the other day that went, to paraphrase it, along the lines of:
    ‘Racism is judging an individual according to the (perceived) averages of a group rather than as an individual.’
    But then again, why should we listen to him – he’s just a typical privileged white man 😉

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I agree with the sentiment Pinker adopted, and I think ultimately it will work, but how does one square this with real differences (statistical to be sure) of risk for disease, etc.? Should we not screen certain (and not others) folks for sickle cell?

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      That’s a good definition of prejudice as a whole, not just racism.

  20. Walt Jones
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    “all people are respected and honored for their capacity to contribute”

    All? Not all.

  21. Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    My biggest problem is not the disinvite per se, but the consequences of having the ability to do so, and the “when does it expire?” question. Everyone says something stupid or uninformed at some point in their lives, after all.

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

      The only recourse for committing PC heresy is to voluntarily admit oneself into a re-education camp. But as Watson is an old white man, the SJWs would rather he just up and died already.

  22. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I have mixed feelings about this, though I tilt 75-85% in favor of letting him speak.

    Watson’s statements on race are not an isolated incident subject to ambiguous interpretation. He has also been quoted as saying “Whenever you interview fat people, you feel bad, because you know you’re not going to hire them.” and advocated allowing women to abort children they knew would be gay (as opposed to Down’s syndrome or some genuine handicap).

    However, he has been on the right side on environmentalist issues and the Vietnam war.

    Personally, I’m not sure how significant IQ really is. I agree with psychologist Dan Colemen that what he calls “emotional intelligence” is far far more important than IQ. (And in my experience Africans have quite a LOT of EI.) See also Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Mismeasure of Man” for a terrific debunking of the importance of IQ.

    There are definitely variations in IQ across races, but not much evidence that it is genetically caused.

    • eric
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      My opinion on all of these poor choices/bad beliefs is “what? You’re telling me a person born in the 20’s doesn’t have the social values we developed in the ’60s? Say it ain’t so!”

      IMO if an old fogie says something racist or sexist in public, he should be called out on it. If an old fogie thinks that way but gives an interesting and biology lecture, I’m neither surprised nor particularly upset about it. Science advances one funeral at a time; in many cases, civil rights does too.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

        An excellent point.

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

      1) regarding Gould’s “terrific debunking”, see the links provided here on the debunking of Gould’s bunk;

      2) Is there simply a lack of evidence that IQ has a genetic etiology, or is there solid evidence that environment is the primary causal factor?

      • Mike Steinberg
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 6:40 am | Permalink

        In terms of individuals there is considerable evidence that much of the variation between people is due to genetic variation. In terms of group differences, you would probably need the kind of analysis done with height to identify causation. For example, frequencies of alleles for height vary between North & South Europeans:

        “He compared the frequencies of alleles that are known to increase height, and found that they are more common in Northern Europe. Interestingly, he found the same relationship for alleles that have weaker evidence for height association, showing that there are still a large number of common height variants hiding in the genome, which are also more frequent in Northern Europe.

        Height differences are thus heritable, but have they been under evolutionary selection? Or are these differences merely down to genetic drift? This can also be tested using the GIANT data, which shows significant statistical evidence of selection on height variants in recent history. On top of that, the magnitude of the selection is correlated with the effect size of the height variant, providing strong evidence that these variants are being selected specifically for their impact on height.”

        http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/height-breeding-values-and-selection.html

      • Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Sahotra Sarkar (a philosopher of biology who I believe is a Chicago PhD – maybe Jerry met him way back) has an interesting little book now almost 20 years old: _Genetics and Reductionism_, which analyzes what it would take to make claims like the “genetic basis” of IQ, etc. I don’t know enough genetics to tell how well it is argued, but it is an interesting book).

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      Several comments above point that in “The Mismeasure of Man”, Gould cooked data to obtain the conclusion he wanted for ideological reasons.

      About the abortion of fetuses that would become gay (if the technical possibility arises), I agree with Watson, and I do not understand why his statement is regarded as controversial. I am pro-choice. I think that bodies of women should not be reduced to incubators for babies. I think this is valid even when these babies are members of a group someone likes.

      For the record, Down syndrome advocates are now trying to force women to incubate to term fetuses with Down syndrome. (I am of course also for the right of every woman with Down syndrome to abort a fetus with normal karyotype.)

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted September 7, 2016 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        Well said. (I’m strongly pro-choice too).

        I can understand why Watson’s statement could become controversial, though. It depends whether it’s interpreted as pro-choice (i.e. no woman should be forced to have a child, they have the right to choose for whatever reason) – or anti-gay (i.e. gayness is such an undesirable trait that nobody would want one). I don’t know enough of the context to guess that.

        cr

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      He has … advocated allowing women to abort children they knew would be gay

      So, you advocate limiting women’s access to abortion to a pre-approved list of reasons?

  23. flemur13013
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    ‘unevidenced’
    Should be – no evidence that his conjecture was incorrect. Rather than be dismissed as ‘odious’ or protested against, the issue should be studied unless you think the issue is irrelevant.

    But I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that biologists are picking a characteristic (intelligence) and treating it as a measure of genetic worth (superior/inferior). It’s like saying “That bird species was genetically superior because it had brighter feathers, and therefore it shouldn’t have been displaced by a similar bird without bright feathers.”

    Why no mention of genetic fitness? Which of course is measured by reproductive success, and Africans are demonstrating their genetic superiority in the only meaningful sense (reproduction):
    Easy graph here:
    http://www.techinsider.io/africas-population-explosion-will-change-humanity-2015-8
    From this UN paper:
    http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/Key_Findings_WPP_2015.pdf

    And, in “The West” at least, intelligence, or its proxy, education, appear to be dysgenic, in the sense of genetic fitness, since the more intelligent (educated) people are having fewer children.

    • Posted September 7, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Humans, particularly in their present condition, are a highly atypical population. We in the West (broadly speaking) do not associate human reproductive success with genetic superiority. We associate it with cultural backwardness, and I think for good reason. And it threatens the existence of many species, including our own.

  24. Malcolm
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    The point is that if Blacks or any other group has a lower IQ compared to the norm due to genetics then this is just genetics and not a sign of prejudice. To discriminate on the basis of this fact however would be racism.

    Razib Khan seemso think that IQ is between 30/70 % heritable – see link
    http://www.unz.com/gnxp/hoping-for-high-heritability-of-iq/

    I am not qualified to know if what he says is true.

    • eric
      Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

      Mere heritability does not necessarily imply or support the claim of a difference between different genetic lines.

      Consider: “‘Having a liver’ is a 100% heritable trait. Therefore I conclude that Italians have significantly better livers than Greeks.” That doesn’t work. Neither does the argument work in the case of brain power, intelligence, IQ, whatever you want to call it.

      • Posted September 7, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

        Your trite analogy entirely misses the point. Whether efficiency of livers or of brains, it’s good and valid science to seek to determine whether: 1) significant variances exist, and; 2) whether those variances are hereditable.

        No one would bat an eye were researchers to look into the heritability of liver performance, nor would anyone blanche were they to conclude that one population (Italians) had ‘superior’ livers to another (Greeks.)

        Yet Watson or anyone who venture to do the same with human intelligence are hounded and vilified.

        • Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          This (“X is Y heritable”) is precisely the sort of claim (amongst others) that Sarkar analyzes in the book above. Maybe one of the biologists can review it. 😉

          I do know enough to say that “X is Y heritable” is missing a place of the predicate: it should be “X is Y heritable in environment Z.” This is where I have the most trouble with Sarkar (and Lewontin and Wimsatt) who make similar points is that I have no idea how to individuate environments in the relevant way, particularly as it pertains to humans. (This is the retort to the “it isn’t just the genes” one gets in some contexts and my response.)

  25. peepuk
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    I can only think of one reason to dis-invite non-violent humans and James Watson seems to agree : Avoid Boring People.

  26. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Six generations to go, isn’t it? That’s the Biblical position – unto the seventh generation.
    I don’t know if Watson has descendants, but they’re probably going to get pretty hacked off if they do exist.

  27. Posted September 7, 2016 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    In a free society, it wouldn’t matter if one or a few universities blackballed Watson, but the wall with which the Left imprisoned Watson has no openings whatsoever. We must end mass incarceration of those holding heterodox views.

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      Actually, it’s the students at the universities who are being incarcerated—carefully walled off from any but progressive views.

  28. RossR
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m pretty sure than when he made those comments that was the received wisdom. And it’s obviously true that if you tailor your test to one particular ethnic group – as it might be, your own – then that ethnic group will perform better on that test than other groups.
    When I was young we were given IQ tests and they were assumed to be all the same and all give the same results. It was about 20 years later that people realised how skewed the standard tests were and set about improving them. They very likely did some research and published it, but I would be surprised if Watson had paid it much attention. For him the “received wisdom” of that time is HIS received wisdom and he has never thought about changing it. No wonder he cannot grasp that he said anything wrong.
    I don’t think one can conclude that he is necessarily racist, he never opined on the equality of races, only on some out of date research that he once knew about. He should perhaps have tried to keep up, but who knew – then – that it would turn out to be important?

    • Mike Steinberg
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 4:57 am | Permalink

      @ RossR,

      The worst part is that Watson was simply referring to empirical evidence. To date, there is no indication that group differences are likely to go away entirely. Indeed, when surveyed a couple of years ago very few intelligence researchers considered group differences were 100% environmental.

      Ultimately, as Professor Steve Hsu has pointed out, the kind of analysis identifying differences between North & South Europeans for gene variants in height could be used for cognitive traits. The odds of an identical distribution across groups seems remote. The likes of Davide Piffer have already looked at some alleles.

      It’s also worth noting the comments of biology Professor Robert Weinberg at MIT:

      “And what happens if one of these days people discover alleles for certain aspects of cognitive function? Chess playing ability. The ability to learn five different languages. The ability to remember strings of numbers. The ability to speak extemporaneously in front of a class, for what it’s worth, for 50 minutes several times a week.

      [It seems improbable to me that such abilities will be controlled or strongly impacted by specific alleles. Rather, they are likely to be subtly influenced by large numbers of different genetic loci. But this doesn’t necessarily affect the following discussion. Note also that Weinberg neglects the possibility of variation in direction of selection pressure experienced by different isolated groups.]

      Whatever ability you want, valued or not so valued, what if those alleles begin to come out? And here’s the worse part. What if somebody begins to look for the frequency of those alleles in different ethnic groups scattered across this planet? Now, you will say to me, well, God has made all his children equal. But the fact is if you look at the details of human evolution, some of which I discussed with you a week ago, last week, you’ll come to realize that most populations in humanity are the modern descendents of very small founder groups.

      … So the fact is it’s inescapable that different alleles are going to be present with different frequencies in different inbreeding populations of humanity or populations of humanity that traditionally have been genetically isolated from one another.”

      http://infoproc.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/forbidden-thoughts.html

      Hsu notes that whatever the case, group differences are statistical, and don’t imply much about individuals. Also, they don’t impact on individual rights under law.

    • Mike Steinberg
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 4:59 am | Permalink

      @ RossR,

      The worst part is that Watson was simply referring to empirical evidence. To date, there is no indication that group differences are likely to go away entirely. Indeed, when surveyed a couple of years ago very few intelligence researchers considered group differences were 100% environmental.

      Ultimately, as Professor Steve Hsu has pointed out, the kind of analysis identifying differences between North & South Europeans for gene variants in height could be used for cognitive traits. The odds of an identical distribution across groups seems remote. The likes of Davide Piffer have already looked at some alleles.

      It’s also worth noting the comments of biology Professor Robert Weinberg at MIT:

      “And what happens if one of these days people discover alleles for certain aspects of cognitive function? Chess playing ability. The ability to learn five different languages. The ability to remember strings of numbers. The ability to speak extemporaneously in front of a class, for what it’s worth, for 50 minutes several times a week.

      [It seems improbable to me that such abilities will be controlled or strongly impacted by specific alleles. Rather, they are likely to be subtly influenced by large numbers of different genetic loci. But this doesn’t necessarily affect the following discussion. Note also that Weinberg neglects the possibility of variation in direction of selection pressure experienced by different isolated groups.]

      Whatever ability you want, valued or not so valued, what if those alleles begin to come out? And here’s the worse part. What if somebody begins to look for the frequency of those alleles in different ethnic groups scattered across this planet? Now, you will say to me, well, God has made all his children equal. But the fact is if you look at the details of human evolution, some of which I discussed with you a week ago, last week, you’ll come to realize that most populations in humanity are the modern descendents of very small founder groups.

      … So the fact is it’s inescapable that different alleles are going to be present with different frequencies in different inbreeding populations of humanity or populations of humanity that traditionally have been genetically isolated from one another.”

      Hsu notes that whatever the case, group differences are statistical, and don’t imply much about individuals. Also, they don’t impact on individual rights under law any more than group differences in height should.

  29. keith cook +/-
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    So much for intelligence much less for commonsense, no one learns anything from this apart from the obvious and nine years is not enough for old men.

  30. Gabrielle
    Posted September 7, 2016 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I want to point out that the student committees did not ask for Watson to be dis-invited. The last sentence of their joint letter asked that going forward, future selections for the lecture be made with more care. It was the selection committee that made the decision to dis-invite. I suspect that the university administration also had something to do with this.
    I was aware that in the past Watson had made the odd controversial comment here and there, but reading the Wikipedia compendium of comments certainly points to him having prejudicial stances on a number of issues. At his advanced age, I think it’s doubtful that he’s changed.
    It seems somewhat odd to me that he was chosen to begin with. The lecture is for achievements in neuroscience, and from my understanding that is not Watson’s field of expertise.

    • Mike Steinberg
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:16 am | Permalink

      It appears that Watson’s talk was going to be on ‘Stopping Incurable Cancers through Eliminating their Anti-Oxidative Defense’. It presumably would have been of interest to a number of students and staff at NYU Langone Medical Center. Watson is the last surviving member of those who received a Nobel Prize for discovering the double helix.

      As for ‘predudicial stances’, Watson simply gave his opinion to an ex-student who asked him about the prospects for Africa. It’s probably a surprise to many, but Watson’s statements regarding what psychometric testing shows were accurate. The question as to whether average differences are entirely environmental or partly genetic will likely only be resolved once more genetic variants for intelligence are identified. But Watson hardly seems alone in considering they are unlikely to be identically distributed across groups. Biology Professor Robert Weinberg, winner of the 1997 National Medal of Science, gave a lecture at MIT where he noted:

      “Whatever ability you want, valued or not so valued, what if those alleles begin to come out? And here’s the worse part. What if somebody begins to look for the frequency of those alleles in different ethnic groups scattered across this planet? Now, you will say to me, well, God has made all his children equal. But the fact is if you look at the details of human evolution, some of which I discussed with you a week ago, last week, you’ll come to realize that most populations in humanity are the modern descendents of very small founder groups.

      … So the fact is it’s inescapable that different alleles are going to be present with different frequencies in different inbreeding populations of humanity or populations of humanity that traditionally have been genetically isolated from one another.”

      Certainly, if you look at the views of psychometric researchers, very few consider group differences are purely environmental. Look up the Snyderman & Rothman survey, or the more recent survey by Rindermann & Becker.

  31. Peter
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    Hazardous for Coyne to argue there was “no option” but to fire Watson for saying something unpopular, when Coyne says unpopular things every week.

    Either one allows scientists to openly make hypotheses independent of political considerations or one doesn’t. We can’t both weep for Galileo’s freedom and deny Watson his.

  32. Francisco
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 1:20 am | Permalink

    Let leave slave trade, colonial history and neocolonialism and let solely focus on genetic to explain IQ difference between Blacks and other. “Very clever.”

    • Mike Steinberg
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 5:03 am | Permalink

      @ Francisco,

      Remember that East Asians average above Europeans. All behavioural traits are partly hereditary. Different cultures and environments aren’t necessarily going to favor the exact same distribution of traits. The most interesting example, is the relatively high average of Ashkenazi jewish people. Again, this appears likely hereditary.

      http://web.mit.edu/fustflum/documents/papers/AshkenaziIQ.jbiosocsci.pdf

      • Francisco
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Not published in respectable journals.
        Not confirmed by independent labs.
        Not confirm by robust statistical analysis.

        • Mike Steinberg
          Posted September 8, 2016 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

          @ Francisco,

          Steven Pinker has pointed out it’s a testable hypothesis. As one of the study authors noted though, no one wants to fund such a controversial study.

          Also, I’m not sure about your point about it not being in a respectable journal. That sounds like a weak appeal to authority. If the paper is flawed then say why you think so.

          The reality is that it’s well established that intelligence differences are largely due to genetic variation. There are no environmental factors anyone has been able to point to that explain the average differences seen in the US.

          When surveyed, very few researchers consider environmental factors can account for group differences (eg. Snyderman & Rothman, or more recently the Rindermann/Becker survey).

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted September 8, 2016 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      I don’t see how the slave trade (or its after-effects) could be still influencing IQ other than through genetic heredity. And I don’t see how it could have influenced IQ even at the time unless the slavers deliberately selected for IQ, whether low or high.

      cr

      • Francisco
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Where are the peer reviewed articles showing genetic basis for IQ transmission ?
        I rephrase it, culture, history, so io-economic, diet and genetic influence IQ which is a method to measure a subtype of intelligence.
        https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201310/the-three-types-intelligence-you-need-success

        • infiniteimrpobabilit
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 3:06 am | Permalink

          Well I’m assuming that intelligence is an inheritable characteristic. If it isn’t, then the slave trade as such – which ended ~200 years ago? – couldn’t have any influence on the IQ of blacks today, could it?

          If you want to argue that the social conditions of slavery and the subsequent low socio-economic status of blacks is responsible for an IQ difference, I wouldn’t disagree.

          cr

      • Kev
        Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:39 am | Permalink

        If you accept that poverty contributes to lowering of average IQ, whatever the mechanism, poor nutrition, limitation of social mobility, education, cultural opportunity etc., then its not hard to imagine that descendants of slaves might carry forward this trait. As I understand, slave descendants are still concentrated in the poorer sectors of society. Its not necessary to invoke genetic difference at all if this model is valid.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted September 9, 2016 at 3:20 am | Permalink

          I’d agree that the social conditions you quote could certainly account for an IQ difference. And I certainly don’t want to appear to be arguing that ‘blacks’ inherently have a lower IQ than ‘whites’ (however you define those groupings).

          Since just about every other characteristic of people has a very strong genetic component, we’re built from a DNA recipe, it seems virtually impossible to me that intelligence (or that facet of it that IQ tests measure) would be an exception.

          cr

          • Kev
            Posted September 9, 2016 at 3:54 am | Permalink

            I had thought to use the trait ‘green’ people since it would make the argument more abstract, but the previous comment cited slavery. The point I am trying to make is that it could be possible to correlate IQ and race through a non-genetic variable (poverty, if you can assume that poverty is not genetically determined, which is actually a debate in itself). This does not assign implied superiority to IQ or inferiority to poverty. The argument in itself is argued logically and scientifically, however it does have political and social connotations. It is possible that any suggestion of lower IQ in a particular ethnic group will cause public offence even if the scientific argument stands (the theory of Evolution is offensive to a lot of people for example). Similarly the argument could be seen as a positive one since it could underline the issue of poverty as a social issue. Interpretations can depend on a political agenda.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted September 9, 2016 at 7:04 am | Permalink

              Okay, I wouldn’t disagree with that.

              cr

  33. Josh
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    The whole debacle reminds me of this essay on the moralistic fallacy in science & importance of seeking the truth (which apparently may run up against goals of ‘inclusiveness’) :

    It is actually very easy to avoid both fallacies – both leaps of logic – by simply never talking about what ought to be at all and only talking about what is. It is not possible to make either the naturalistic or the moralistic fallacy if scientists never talk about ought. Scientists – real scientists – do not draw moral conclusions and implications from the empirical observations they make, and they are not guided in their observations by moral and political principles. Real scientists only care about what is, and do not at all care about what ought to be….

    Truth is the only guiding principle in science, and it is the most important thing for all scientists. In fact, it is the only important thing; nothing else matters in science besides the truth. However, I also believe that any solution to a social problem must start with the correct assessment of the problem itself and its possible causes. We can never devise a correct solution to a problem if we don’t know what its ultimate causes are. So the true observations are important foundations of both basic science and social policy, if you do care about solving social problems, which of course I don’t.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-scientific-fundamentalist/200810/two-logical-fallacies-we-must-avoid

  34. Anon.
    Posted September 8, 2016 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    >We still have no good data on the genetic basis of ethnic differences in IQ.

    Davide Piffer. (2015). A review of intelligence GWAS hits: Their relationship to country IQ and the issue of spatial autocorrelation. Intelligence, Volume 53, November–December 2015, Pages 43–50.

  35. Posted September 8, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    It is not true that Watson’s remarks were “unevidenced”. They arise from over a century of work looking at group differences, including genetic group differences.

    https://drjamesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2015/09/migrant-competence.html

    https://drjamesthompson.blogspot.co.uk/2016/05/london-conference-on-intelligence-2016.html

  36. Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    James Watson is guilty of nothing more than telling the truth, something that scientists are supposed to do.

    • Posted September 9, 2016 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      Ummm. . . I don’t think a lot of his remarks could be characterized as “truth.”

  37. Anthony DP
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Nothing prejudicial about having an opinion on a subject upon which the data is mixed & non-definitive. Although with regard to intellect & temperament, there is a growing body of evidence that there are meaningful differences between populations. It’s certainly no more rational to be perfectly convinced of broad-based human equality. That seems a far more untenable position at this point. Sad that this science great was treated so terribly by the religionists of our age (Cultural Marxism being the religion). Shameful really. The man is certainly entitled to his opinion. But some aspiring totalitarians & insecure minds obviously don’t think so.

  38. Posted September 9, 2016 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    This comment section has devolved into an argument about whether blacks have genetically lower IQs than whites, and that wasn’t my intention. I’m not going to accept any more comments about that argument, so if you want to argue about it here, don’t bother.

  39. Posted September 9, 2016 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if Dr. Watson was going to be paid an honorarium for his talk. If so, he has a good claim for breach of contract. It probably isn’t worth hiring a lawyer, but it would make a good spite case, and NYU would settle.

  40. Elizabeth Andrews
    Posted September 9, 2016 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Let the man speak, NYU — and then decide what you think! Isn’t that how education is supposed to go?

  41. John
    Posted September 12, 2016 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    Many years ago my high school invited a neo-nazi to talk to my history class. And a woman holocaust survivor and her daughter. It was so interesting to see the gentle demeanor of the survivor while her daughter was so enraged. It gives me thought of how terrorist keep producing terrorists. It is harder for those who weren’t there to deal with it.


2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] role that Reinharz suggests. It was, after all, the department and not the administration that just cancelled James Watson’s talk at NYU. And where is the faculty as a community to be found in many of the recent campus dust-ups? Unless […]

  2. […] read about this on a website written by University of Chicago biology Professor Jerry Coyne. Professor Coyne objects to the […]

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