I’ve used this quote before, but it bears repeating.
“Alas, to wear the mantle of Galileo it is not enough that you be persecuted by an unkind establishment, you must also be right.”
““ Robert Park
James Watson, famous for being one of the scientists to describe the structure of DNA, is a cranky old fart who has had a reputation in recent years for saying bizarre, offensive and, most importantly, scientifically unsubstantiated statements about a variety of groups that he has “Othered”. So now he does it again and finally some institutions that had been enjoying the prestige of having a Nobel Prize winner on their letterhead have decided that any association with Watson is more trouble than it’s worth.
Predictably, some people are, in the name of defending academic freedom, comparing Watson being ejected from the gravy train he’s been getting a free ride on since the 60s with the persecution of Galileo.
Apparently Watson hasn’t authored any scientific papers since the 60s. He’s not doing any research that could be suppressed: he was on a speaking tour to tout his memoirs. He’s just an unpleasant personality who is overdue for putting out to pasture. Enjoy your retirement, old man.
As to the whole argument about “intelligence” variations between groups of humans, everyone who makes this argument points only to studies of IQ results, as if we have (a) adequately defined what intelligence actually is and (b) IQ tests adequately measure every aspect of intelligence. The limitations of IQ tests should be obvious to anyone who actually thinks a little bit about them, but it was summed up very well in American Psychologist in 1996:
It is widely agreed that standardized tests do not sample all forms of intelligence. Obvious examples include creativity, wisdom, practical sense, and social sensitivity; there are surely others. Despite the importance of these abilities we know very little about them: how they develop, what factors influence that development, how they are related to more traditional measures.
Apart from all these limitations in the adequacy of IQ tests, how does one go about conducting a study that effectively controls for complex social aspects influencing people’s cognitive performance separate from their racial heritage?
People like IQ tests because they look all objective, being a number and all. But the creator of the first ever IQ test, Alfred Binet, expressed reservations about how easily IQ scores could be misused as an alleged measure of absolute intellectual capacity instead of a test limited to demonstrating correctable deficits in knowledge acquisition skills.
Binet himself cautioned against misuse of the scale or misunderstanding of its implications. According to Binet, the scale was designed with a single purpose in mind; it was to serve as a guide for identifying students who could benefit from extra help in school. His assumption was that a lower IQ indicated the need for more teaching, not an inability to learn. It was not intended to be used as “a general device for ranking all pupils according to mental worth.” Binet also noted that “the scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.” Since, according to Binet, intelligence could not be described as a single score, the use of his Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a definite statement on a child’s intellectual capability would be a serious mistake.
Other people took Binet’s work, adapted it and asserted that intelligence was an innate and immutable quality, that their IQ tests measured it accurately, and that population-wide assessment of IQ would be of great value to society. The assessment industry today is worth a lot of money, and it is in the financial and professional interest of a lot of people to keep on representing IQ tests as a gold standard method of assessing human intelligence.
Just because something has a number score doesn’t mean that it is either objective or accurate.
Categories: Culture, culture wars, education, Science, Sociology
James Watson – the Prince Philip of science.
Except that I have a soft spot for Phil.
Nice quote there, I may have to take note of that one.
I’ve been having this argument for days now over at Iain Hall’s blog, where he keeps on implying that intellectual capacity may in fact be genetically determined and correlated across ethnic groups, and that it doesn’t mean any given ethnicity would treated any less humanely, thus, he claims, where is the problem?
I’m giving you a link not to advertise his site, but because I think I well and truly hammered every bit of his argument.
BK, you’re so spot on with the Philness of Watson.
Jangari, I think you well and truly hammered every bit of his argument as well.
I’m afraid I saw the quote elsewhere. . . on a science suppliers forum, IIRC.
Even if it were true that intellectual capacity and race were somehow linked, which barely stands scrutiny as a hypothesis since we lack the means to quantify it objectively, what would it mean if it turned out that black people were inherently more ‘intelligent’ than white people? Would white people abandon the societal privileges granted them by subliminal racism, inviting black people to assume these same privileges? Would white people migrate to the less fashionable neighbourhoods and sell their houses to their black ‘superiors’? Or would white people just dismiss the results as flawed and irrelevant. Certain white people on the looney right might even rediscover the art of the lynch mob and practise it on those who published the findings.
Mr Tog, you have given an excellent side of the argument. Thanks for making me think.
Also, people get too carried out by claiming that “these” or “that” group is less intelligent than *insert dominant group here”, but they NEVER move on to explain why would that be. Why would nature make whites smarter than blacks? That’s the real question here. (and claiming that “god is white” is just not good enough)
Largely as a response to the apologism of come commentors on the Pharyngula thread I link to above, Chris Clarke takes on the sort of people who claim that Watson might be speaking from some place of scientific rationality rather than just talking out of his racist hat (as well as a whole heap of gender essentialists) with Belief in Evolutionary Psychology May Be Hardwired, Study Says.
They usually do some handwaving about prehistoric Europeans surviving in harsher climates, MaryTracy9. While always ignoring that large predators are much rarer in those exact same harsher climates than they are in Africa, as if snow on the ground several months a year automagically outweighs all other factors.
They also ignore the way that Africa has changed since prehistoric times while trumpeting how “white” culture has moved on in so many ways, again a hugely simplistic picture.
Owowowow. . . teh internets are bad for me at this time of the morning. I think I sprained something.
The best argument against “black people are less intelligent than white people” that I have heard:
Among black students at US colleges and universities, a large proportion of them are African immigrants. I assume that most African immigrants would be 100% black, whereas the great majority of American blacks (descendants of slaves) have … er … white ancestry.
Also, people’s conceptions of race don’t accurately reflect genetic relationships – some people consider indigeneous Australians and South Asians “black” – in reality, they are not related to “black” Africans any more than white people are!
Mr Tog – “what would it mean if it turned out that black people were inherently more “intelligent’ than white people?”
I think that some of the “black people are not as intelligent as white people” proponents claim that East Asians and Jews are more intelligent than white people, but I don’t see them giving up their white privilege to us anytime soon …
Well, yes. Many of them consider themselves “black”, in my experience.
I’m reminded of the political gaffe made by – I can’t remember who – labelling an African person (?a UK citizen?) “African-American”. Can anyone remember the story?
I’m coming to this a bit late but it seems to me that since the concept of ‘race’ is entirely subjective- there are no objective determiners of race;it is to all intents and purposes a false construct, and since Intelligence Tests are themselves a very controversial measure, beset by validity problems that will probably never go away, these kinds of comparisons are completely bogus.
Validity is the core issue; without validity (the test measures a real world attribute), it does not matter how reliable tests are. Standard intelligence tests are quite reliable these days (you’ll get the same score regardless of time of testing or who conducts the test) which makes people think that they are also valid, but this is not the case. In particular the criterion related validity of intelligence tests are really poor. Although extremely low scores reliably predict fairly poor outcomes all other scores, including extremely high scores do not necessarily predict higher levels of functioning in society. They are good at pinpointing areas of strengths and weakness but broadscale comparisons within and amongst populations – there be dragons.
Yes, L.M. I’ve heard those claims too, although I’m not sure what ‘white’ privileges you think they would not be giving up.
Peggy McIntosh (Independent School, Winter 1990): White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack