Co-discoverer of DNA on Race and Intelligence

The statement that whites score higher on IQ tests, on average, than blacks is either true or not true, but if true, can you say it? Is truth racist? Must a scientist lie to be heard?

17 thoughts on “Co-discoverer of DNA on Race and Intelligence

  1. “Racism suspends all rational judgment. It really does,”

    Kinda explains the treatment of our last President, who was arguably the most “intelligent” man to hold the office in history. In Watson’s case “racist, homophobic, sexist old fool” is an appropriate new title..


  2. This issue is troubling in so many ways. In 1994 Charles Murray published THE BELL CURVE which claimed an average difference in intelligence between white and black populations. All hell broke loose.

    In any measurable human trait, individuals will score differently, with most people near the average value and others scoring higher or lower. That distribution can be graphed on a standard distribution curve.

    It is factually correct that if IQ scores for whites and blacks are graphed on the same axis, the curves will overlap, with the curve for whites peaking slightly higher than the curve for blacks. That means little for individuals, as many blacks will score higher than the average for whites and at the extremes of both curves are individuals of profound intelligence, or its lack. I’m not sure knowing it is all that useful, but there it is.

    In 25 years of desperate effort, Murray’s basic assertion has not been disproved. Yet to say it in public can end a scientist’s career.

    As uncomfortable as Murray’s findings are, they are true, so why do we have so much troubles admitting it?

    What I find most troubling is that we demand that scientists say things that are socially acceptable without regard for whether they are true. What does that do to science?


    1. I had not seen this post before my last one.

      I think science goes where goes and hurt feelings be damned. It is troubling when society punishes those who bring facts to light (Capernicus), but I don’t think this is a good example to debate the issue around. Murry’s work, for example is only “true” if one accepts the base definitions of intelligence (IQ scores) and many do not.


  3. And to your point:

    Which I think renders the questions you pose somewhat moot. If you can’t define it there is no basis for it being “true” Another point to be made in such conversations is that we are ALL out-of-Africa and as such defined by shared genetics. The fact that some people are “smarter” than others is just a reflection of where the genetic roulette week stopped. I do believe pointing to one group as being smarter based on skin tone is silly AND racist.


  4. Heh, heh, let the squirming begin.

    Myrray’s information, though true, is of very little use. I would be hard pressed to think of a single useful application. The reason is that the difference between the peaks of the racial curves is small but the overlap is very large. Thus, making a judgment of any particular person based on that difference is more likely to be wrong than right. There are a lot of black people to the right of the center of the white bell curve To make decisions using statistical information requires that you understand the limits of the usefulness of those statistics.

    Assigning individuals to more or less demanding curricula or employment based on that statistical difference would lead to a huge waste of human potential as qualified blacks would be denied opportunity and just as bad, less qualified whites would get positions for which they are ill prepared.

    So, it is the APPLICATION of the information that can be both racist and stupid, but the information itself, and reporting it, is not.

    But to get back to what troubles me here, Murray, and now Watson, are being ostracized for telling the truth because other people make bad assumptions based on that truth. And that wastes their potential, and puts other scientists on notice that truth is less important than social acceptability.

    And that is really bad.

    To me, this is more about science than race. Science should tell use the pure, unvarnished truth(to the best it can find it,) whether we like it or even if it is useful, without fear of consequences.


    1. RE: “I would be hard pressed to think of a single useful application.”

      I would think there are many useful applications, although admittedly the risk of going about them in bad ways is very high. For example, a population with an average IQ of 90 will require social investments (public or private) which are substantially different from those for a population with an average IQ of 110.

      We need to learn to talk about such things without getting caught up in social justice arguments. Emphasizing the distinction between individual and group traits is a helpful step in that direction, but the journey is longer.


  5. It is noteworthy that The Pilot enabled commenting on the WAPO piece. This shows they are interested in gauging public reaction to the story or to specific things it says.

    The story itself is a tour de force of journalistic malpractice and demonstrable lies. But so it goes.

    I was reading the other day — can’t remember where — that a consensus is emerging among social scientists that “nurture” plays almost no role in human development and behavior. The materialistic view of humans as biological machines is gaining ground as our ability to engineer and manipulate the machinery itself becomes ever more sophisticated and wide-ranging. On the basis of hard evidence, we are beginning to see that “nature” to the exclusion of “nurture” may be the only game in town.

    Consensus and truth are of course two different things. It is a shame the WAPO item confuses them, and in the wrong direction: that of pretending that “nature” and “nurture” are of equal significance to our understanding of ourselves.


    1. It would be interesting to know where you read that.

      Here is a site that provides a decent explanation of the subtleties of nurture and its effect on DNA and genes.

      Bottom line there is strong evidence that genes can be turned “on” or “off” or even permanently altered by lifestyle from the womb to old age. Lifestyle covering everything from the health of the mother, stress, diet, pollution, disease etc. and these genetic changes can be passed on to later generations.

      If this is the case then the bell curve results may not be an indicator of natural differences in racial IQ as much as response over many generations of stress due to the position in society. Stress being sociological, psychological, medical and dietary due to lower incomes and status.


      1. The epigenetics argument is interesting. Notice that animals do not make conscious decisions to turn on or turn off their own genes.

        Put another way, epigenetic processes are a good example of nature operating independently of nurture: Were a society to “nurture” it’s unintelligent members through say, certain political philosophies, nature will eventually kill it.


      2. There are lots of reasons why a person’s achievements may exceed their genetics. Nurture is one, but some people simply work harder.

        One of my heroes, Richard P Feynman, was probably an intellectual equal to Einstein, or at least Fermi, but he put a lot of his energy into playing bongos in nightclubs and getting laid, so he probably didn’t achieve his full potential as a physicist.

        (We choose our heroes based on our priorities. Feynman was a great TEACHER of physics and advocate of science in general.)


        1. Achievement is not a measure of intelligence. It is a measure of some kind of notable success, monetary or otherwise, in a particular culture.

          A few decades ago there was an article in the WSJ about what makes some entrepreneurs great successes and others not.

          The interviews were with both entrepreneurs who did succeed and those who study such things.

          The expected answers were there. Drive, ambition, the ability to focus, optimism, the ability to handle defeat, risk tolerance, street smarts, etc.

          But the one that was at or near the top of both lists was luck.

          One of the businessmen interview said he had been working long hours, trying to compete in some kind of distribution business. He did all he could but had a tough time breaking into the field.

          Until his main competition had a disastrous fire and that left him with a sudden influx of business and the rest was history.

          Vince Lombardi once said that luck was “where preparation meets opportunity”.

          You said that some people work harder. The question is where did they get the work ethic in the first place? And the fact is that there are plenty of people who work harder than we can imagine, but never achieve measured goals.

          So hard work alone is not the criteria.

          I am not dismissing the importance of drive, etc. But success in a capitalist society like ours is very complicated and requires more than just native intelligence or long hours.

          And that is if you measure success by wealth. If you measure success by having a life in which your are happy, that is a different story. And probably a more important one.



  6. Nurture is environment.

    Nature bestows a set of genes that are essentially the same for everyone. Epigenetics studies how nurture changes them.

    I don’t see independence as co-dependence. It seems the studies focus more on the gross abnormalities then subtleties of virtues. Probably easier to identify.


      1. Don’t know that much. I suspect epigenetic studies is just another part of the scientific jigsaw that may explain many things and make us wonder about many more.


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