James Watson, Nobel Prize Recpient: racist?

This article explains that James Watson, who received the Nobel Prize in 1962 for his work on DNA, is being considered by some to be racist.

Now I do not know what tests he is referring to, but I would not be surprised if there were differences in intelligance between different races. If populations isolated from each other could become taller, smaller, darker, blonder, stronger, faster, why not smarter. Now even if this is true, I would expect people of even normal intelligence to understand that it does NOT mean that all of one group are more intelligent than all the peopl in a less intelligent group. Only that, on average, one group outperforms. So it surprises me (kind of) that fellow scientists would take him to task for this. For instance:

And more amazingly:

Huh? One of the most respected scientists in the world claims that empirical data points to a conclusion that is unPC and he is not only a racist, but guilty of a hate crime?

Why isn’t the debate among these scientists on the testing data itself. Or the theory of how isolated populations self-select for certain traits?

I know some of the issues raised here are the same as thjose rased in The Bell Curve. But wouldn’t one think that a person of science, such as Mr. Watson is, is not a racist. Not that he couldn’t be, but that he would be assumed to not be? Especially when he claims that his conclusion is based on empiral date?


I’m given to understand that anybody could be considered racist by someone, because the world has no shortage of someones who are total idiots.

There is and there is.

He’s being called a racist, sexist and homophobic not because he’s doing the research and making conclusions, but because he’s proposing ‘solutions’ in the form of aborting, for example, gay fetuses.

Oh, and his research and Nobel are respected. He is seen as a bit of a loony pervert, as far as I can teel, and I’ve seen him speak and spoken to his former colleagues.

You’re assuming some relationship between his stance on the issue I posted about and others. Maybe his reasoning for those stances is unreasonable, maybe it isn’t I don’t know because I haven’t heard them. Now, he has credentials as a scientist in spades. He stated a postition on the race issue and offered reasons why he held that position. You should be able to discuss this on it’s own merits, or lack thereof.

The first problem is that no racial population has ever evolved to become any stronger, taller, faster or shorter. Not one. That appears to be simply because those are survival traits and they simply can’t be realistically pared down over large diverse groups such as races. There may be some tiny groups within races that are genetically shorter than others although the jury is still very much out on whether this is the case, but there is no racial population that is any taller or stronger than any other. As such it would be even less likely if intelligence has managed to be selected in this way. Populations can certainly become lighter than others, but that is because colouration is not a survival trait, and so can be freely selected. However even here it is obvious that dark colouration low latitude sis sufficiently beneficial never to have been sleetced against

And this is the problem Watson’s comments, and by extension with your own argument. He has made a statement concerning a trait with massive survival value and then appplied it to an entire racial group, and the most genetically and morphologically diverse group of them all. Had he said that testing indicates that the people of a specific town in Kenya are dumber than the average then that would be reasonable, and your own position would also be reasonable because some people from some towns appear to be shorter than others. But he didn’t apply it to one town, he applied it to an entire race occupying 7/8 of a freakin’ continent. And no, 7/8 of the continent are not taller or stronger than the occupants of any other continent.

Of course he deserves to be taken to task, Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If other survival traits such as height or strength do not vary between racial groups then what evidence can he present that the most important human survival trait does vary in this manner? His evidnce is apparently that people who employ darkies know it to be true. That isn’t scientific, it ins’t even true.

Just because I’m a scientist that doesn’t give me carte blanche to talk rubbish about any topic I like. Do you also believe that a respected pyrologist should be able to shout “fire” in a crowded theatre?

If the man wanst to talk science he should talk science, including pesenting his evidence and reasoning. If he wants to make statements in public then he has exactly the same limitaions and freedoms on his speech as everyone else.

Because vague handwaving about “tests” isn’t data, it isn’t science and it isn’t debatable. this issue has been done to death. Start with “Mismeasure of man” and work form there. As far as scientists are concerned the issue is resolved. There was some debate for a while but the evidence is so overhwleming that it is as sttled as any issue is going to get. If Watson has some fresh data then he can publish it and let the discussion recommence.

I really don’t see how this has any beraing at all on the subject.

Firstly can you explain what relevance isolated populatons have? Watson was talking about Negores. How is that populaton in any way isolated?

Secondly as I already pointed out, populations like Negroes have never bneen demonstrated to select for any traits. Negroes contain the greatest phsycial and genetic variation of any populaton on Earth. They contain the tallest and shortest, the heaviest and the lightest populations on the planet. In what sense do you believe this group has ever self-selected for certain traits?

Why would we assume that he isn’t racist? What dos being aperosn of sicenc have to do with anyhting? This seems to be a total non sequitur.perhaps you can fill in the gaps in your reasoning.

Secondly I haven’t heard of Watson doing any indiependent research to collect this empirical data, so I doubt he has anything new to offer. But if he has such data then he need to present it. Vague handwaving about the existience of such is just so much hot air. It woudlnt; be accpetable on this forum and it certaily isn’t suficient to make it as scientific debate.

You seem to be simultaneously saying that we don’t know his reasoning, and asking why we aren’t responding to those reasons on their own merits.


Firstly he has credentials as a biochemist in spades. AFAIK he has no credibility whatsoever when it comes to populaiton genetics or complex gene expression. But if you believe he has credibility in these filds then perhaps you could show us where he has published on these topics.

Secondly there are no authorities in science. His argument has to stand by its own merits. I’m willing to allow a knowledgable person more leeeway before I shout “cite” but that doesn’t mean they get away without present any evidence at all.

This is rather ironic since you appear to be saying that he should be assumed not to be racist because of who he rather than because of the merits of his position, and that that he is credible because of who he is rather than because of the merits of his argument.

Can’t have it both ways.

If the the man’s past history and positions on other subjects is irrelevant then his latest argument stands or fallson its own merits. If the man’s past history and positions on other subjects allows to determnine whether he is not racist or credible then they also allow us to determine is he is a bigot and unreliable.

Yes. Define “racism” and I’ll tell you if Watson is racist or not.

I saw nothing in your quotes or links that suggested it was his “fellow scientists” that were getting on his case. None of the people I saw quoted were speaking as scientists or as representatives of scientific institutions.

Of course, as has already been pointed out, he is just one more layman in the fields of anthropology, psychology, biometrics, or any other field that studies either the physical basis of intelligence or purported race, so his comments on those fields do not require a studied response from actual researchers until such time as he actually invests his energy in making those (never named) studies his own.

It would also seem that he is far from a much beloved or respected figure in the airy realms of science, anyway. There has long been a certain amount of scorn of his methods for the way he mischaracterized and denigrated the work of a colleague on whom his own DNA research absolutely depended in his self-promoting autobiography (that was initially rejected for publication due to the known errors of fact).

Perhaps if he actually takes the time to do some genuine research on biometrics and “race” and has it published in a peer reviewed journal, we could then consider whether he has anything worth reading on a topic that he is quite glib espousing in his interviews away from the overview of actual scientists.

(I do agree that the call by the political (not scientific) organization to have him examined for hate crimes is silly.)

William Shockley, who shared the Nobel prize for invention of the transistor, was accused of having similar beliefs.

OK. Now that I have found a link that works* to the Independent story, I see that it was a “scientific institution” in the form of the Science Museum in London.

I’m not sure that that qualifies as his “fellow scientists,” but I guess that a museum dedicated to science is somewhat similar to “fellow scientists.” (Although the nature of the institution as a teaching facility, not a research facility, would seem to place it in a somewhat different category from my perspective.)

(What is it about aging U.S. Nobel winers making silly claims about race in their dotage–and out of their fields. This is like Shockley all over again.)

  • Does anyone know whether the Independent constantly changes the stories on its web site? Are we going to be chasing the same story across multiple broken links?
    (ETA: Should have previewed as I see that I was late with my Shockley reference.)

It’s almost impossible to read something like He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. and try to find a non-racist interpretation for it.

There’s no way a white guy could have come up with this on his own. I’d like to hear the opinion of an Asian.

It is entirely possible that Dr. Watson is not a racist.
OTOH, having read a few more of his comments as they have been reported in connection with this story, I find that he also subscribes to the idea that there is a direct correlation between purported race and sex drive. In other words, it appears pretty clear that his “ideas” have been taken from the noted racist psychometricist, J. Philippe Rushton. Perhaps Watson is not racist, just gullible when he steps outside his narrow domain of expertise.

Really? I thought that Inuit (Eskimos) and some South American natives were genetically shorter than Europeans.

Okay, we seem to have concluded we should not let elderly American Nobelists near a microphone or keyboard nor give them any attention when they are talking outside their fields because, like anybody else talking about something they know little about, they end up sounding like idiots. I thought that was self-evident, but we’ve concluded it again. Let’s get to the important, unaddressed topic:


And I’m not touching magellan01’s statement, “…he has credentials as a scientist in spades.” Perhaps the suit should be changed when discussing racism. :eek:

Didn’t it come out a few years ago that there were differences in fast twitch and slow twitch muscles among genetic Africans that affected speed, endurance and strength?

Was that recanted or am I misremembering?

When I heard him talk, he implied several times, completely unprompted, that his scientific achievments got him ladies. He also said something about genetically manufacturing ‘pretty girls’ which was sort of laughed off (though I’ve definitely heard him quoted saying similar stuff since then. I guess he thinks he’s being cute). Then got sort-of booed (the audience was mostly students and scientists) when he mentioned practical applications for genetic screening i.e. aborting fetuses with the yet-to-be-found ‘gay gene.’ He backtracked a bit on that during the Q&A, but the sense I got from the other scientists there was that this was pretty typical, and not just the first glimmers of senility, either.

Anyway, now when I see him I hum ‘Thank heavens, for little girls.’ The ‘pretty girls’ stuff is enough for me, because it assumes that there is no sociological basis for what is considered attractive, just as deeming one ‘race’ more intelligent than another assumes that only one group can determine the parameters of intelligence.

Belief that one race is superior to another. I’m not sure why there’s any debate over whether he’s deserving of that label, but I don’t see much consequence of it either. Are his views hidden from society in any way? Is there anyone on Earth not familiar with the theory that blacks are naturally stupid?

I hate the disingenuousness of the OP and these discussions. No, you’re not going to be able to claim that blacks are naturally stupid without controversy, for obvious reasons. Get over it. And yes, that’s exactly what all of these discussions are about - blacks being naturally stupid.

Thanks, but that is disappointingly unpervy. Thanks to the internet and the evening news the bar is mighty high and a geneticist suggesting attractiveness can be genetically manipulated for has the sad air of 50s sci-fi. And a sexist, racist, and homophobic octagenarian? That’s dog bites man territory. The real news would be to find an old white guy who ISN’T sexist, racist, and homophobic. Other than our own David Simmons.