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Thursday, October 18, 2007

James Watson: Science at its Worst

In a profile of James Watson, renowned 1962 Nobel Laureate for co-discovering the double-helical structure of DNA and chancellor of the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, the Sunday Times Magazine of London quoted him as saying that he's "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."

Furthermore, while he hopes everyone is equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true," Watson said. He also said people should not be discriminated against on the basis of color, because "there are many people of color who are very talented."

In addition, Watson in his new book "Avoid Boring People" says, "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 obviously needs Sherlock Holmes to explain it all for him, because he doesn't understand anything about standardized testing or how it relates to genetic inheritance of intelligence.
Granted, in many standardized testing situations, taken as a cohort, people of African heritage have had a lower median on their bell curve than people of other races. However, when you control for socioeconomic background, the race factor drops out entirely.


Yep. Poor, disadvantaged black people score equally with poor, disadvantaged white folks and poor, disadvantaged Asian folks. Middle-class black folks score equally well as middle-class white or Asian folks. Ditto for upper-class sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers. When you control for socioeconomic status, race is unimportant in standardized testing scores.

Let's say it again to be perfectly clear: When you control for socioeconomic status, race is unimportant in standardized testing scores.

Due to historical inequality of opportunity, a higher percentage of poor, disadvantaged black folks drag down the curve.

Two generations ago, people of African descent received worse scores than today.

Two generations from now, with rigor, more black people will be lifted out of poverty, and their kids have more tutoring and prep opportunities and better schools, and their scores will improve.

Note that: the genetic composition of the cohorts has not and will not perceptibly change, but scores have and will improve. That's not genetics. That's environment.

Such blatantly racist comments smack of eugenics and denigrate all of science by suggesting that we suppose such idiocy. Watson has since apologized for his comments, but I hope that people realize that these comments were not scientifically valid, were not supported by data, and are the worst misapplication of science.

TK Kenyon
Author of RABID: A Novel
"What begins as a riff on Peyton Place smoothly metamorphoses into a philosophical battle between science and religion. Kenyon is definitely an author to watch, she juggles all of her story's elements without dropping any of them--and, let's not forget, creates four very subtle and intriguing central characters."
–Booklist Starred Review

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