James D. Watson—A Modern Galileo
Yet, as demonstrated once again by the vast uproar aimed at silencing legendary Nobel laureate and co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA James D. Watson for daring to mention racial differences in average IQ:
When it comes to genetics and intelligence, academic politics is so vicious because the stakes are so extraordinarily high.
Last year, then-Harvard President Larry Summers was fired from his job presiding over an endowment now worth $34.9 billion largely for pointing out that evil patriarchal discrimination isn’t the only reason women don’t achieve as much as men do at the very highest levels of math, science, and engineering. Instead, the greater male variance in IQ simply means there are more male geniuses. (And morons, but there aren’t many morons at Harvard, except morally).
Now, Watson, perhaps the second-most famous living scientist after Stephen Hawking, has been suspended by Long Island’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for what can only be called, to adopt the prescient totalitarian terminology of Orwell’s 1984, crimethink.
Watson was in Britain to promote his frank new memoir, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. It is something of a sequel to his 1968 bestseller The Double Helix,
which was named the 7th best nonfiction book of the 20th Century in 1999. The Double Helix wasn’t quite that good, but it was still a revealing portrait of just how political and competitive science can be.
Last week, Watson told the Sunday Times of London that he was:
“‘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.’” [The elementary DNA of Dr Watson, By Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe, October 14, 2007]
He instantly had his sold-out lecture at the Science Museum in London canceled. A spokesdroid for the museum explained:
“We feel Dr. Watson has gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are, as a result, cancelling his talk.”
Lecture venues in Birmingham and Edinburgh also canceled his talks. An “anti-racism” group in Britain called for a criminal investigation of the American visitor under Britain’s notoriously repressive “hate” laws. (Americans, beware—a “hate” bill has just been sneaked through Congress). Watson called off his book tour of Britain and returned to the U.S.
Apparently, many of the Powers That Be actually want you to be bored.
People don’t hate you for being wrong. (At worst, they just ignore you; at best, as with the late Stephen Jay Gould, they worship you and pay you millions.) People hate you for saying what they fear is the truth.
Watson probably wasn’t terribly surprised by the paroxysm of political correctness that has engulfed Britain. But he must have been shocked to be immediately suspended by his own ungrateful, cowardly Board of Trustees [email them] at the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, which he has led for 39 years, first as director, then president, then chancellor, and which he built up into one of the world’s leading molecular biology research institutes. (In fact, the Ph.D. program at that Long Island institution is known as the Watson School of Biological Sciences!)
This is even more disgraceful than Harvard firing Larry Summers. The former Carter Administration Treasury Secretary is a brilliant but bumptious nerd who was always a curious choice to head such a well-established brand name as Harvard.
“The laboratory … was slipping into decay when Dr. Watson became its director in 1968. He proved a skillful fund-raiser, adept at winning support from the local community as well as Federal sources. He hired many biologists of distinction … If the world’s molecular biologists acknowledge any particular home, it is the little hillside village that Dr. Watson has so carefully rebuilt.”[Scientist at Work: James D. Watson; Impresario of the Genome Looks Back With Candor, April 7, 1998]
The outpouring of snide articles about how we should ignore Watson’s views because he’s a “loose cannon” is just wrong. Watson is not some lone eccentric. Although his place in the history books as a discoverer alongside Darwin and Mendel is secure, he also is a central leader in the life sciences in the 21st Century.
Watson’s an unusual combination: both an acerbic personality frequently surrounded by drama and an impressive institution builder—a little like George Steinbrenner, the owner of the New York Yankees. Indeed, Watson’s new autobiography is organized as a self-help book for leaders of scientific institutions, complete with 108 “Remembered Lessons,” such as “Manage your scientists like a baseball team”—in other words, scout for young talent and release most researchers by the time they hit 40 because they are then over the hill as discoverers. Thus, at that age, Watson took on the leadership of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
So suspending Watson from participation in the great achievement of the second half of his life was an especially cruel degradation of such a social man.
This may help explain why Watson wasn’t quite as explicitly courageous last week as he probably assumed he would be when he wrote this in his new book about the similar ritual denunciation of Summers in 2005:
“If I were still a member of the faculty [of Harvard], the number of tenured scientists standing visibly behind the president in this matter would have literally doubled.”
When Watson’s own feet were held to the fire last week, however, he offered a semi-apology/semi-defense. This has been almost universally assumed to be a “complete retraction”—to quote a representatively obtuse article, The Mortification of James Watson. [Time Magazine, By Laura Blue, October 19, 2007]
But it’s not. As the headline of Watson’s response on Friday, October 19 in the UK Independent shows—“To question genetic intelligence is not racism“—his actual stance is closer to Galileo’s, who is said to have muttered E pur si muove (“and yet it does move”) after the Inquisition forced him to recant in public his heretical belief that the earth went around the sun.
Watson wrote on Friday:
“This is not a discussion about superiority or inferiority, it is about seeking to understand differences, about why some of us are great musicians and others great engineers.”
Watson didn’t specify who the great musicians tend to be—as opposed to the great engineers. But you can fill in the blanks.
It’s important to understand that this was no mere obiter dicta off the top of Watson’s 79-year-old head—“inflammatory comments apparently based on only minimal knowledge of the science involved”, to quote a representatively dogmatic (wishful?) claim by Huffington Post blogger Dan Agin. The truth is that Watson has a schizophrenic son, which has resulted in his studying the links between DNA and brain function for decades.
Moreover, the climactic last pages of Watson’s new memoir are devoted to precisely this topic for which he is now being bullied: the struggle between Political Correctness and the scientific quest to understand the genetic roots of IQ differences.
The epilogue of Watson’s new book is devoted to the Larry Summers Show Trial and its aftermath. Watson writes:
“To my regret, Summers, instead of standing firm, within a week apologized publicly three times for being candid about what might well be a fact of evolution that academia will have to live with. Except for the psychologist Steve Pinker, no prominent Harvard scientist voiced a word in Summers’s defense; I suspect the majority were fearful of being tarred with the brush of political incorrectness.”
The end of Avoid Boring People centers upon an April 2006 meeting between Watson and the post-Larry Summers interim president of Harvard, Derek Bok, who had also been president when Watson was a professor there in the 1970s.
“Before leaving Derek’s temporary office I remarked that the time was surely not far off when academia would have no choice but to hand political correctness back to the politicians. Since 1978, when a pail of water had been dumped over [Harvard sociobiologist] E.O. Wilson for saying that genes influence the behavior of humans as well as of other animals, the assault against behavioral science by wishful thinking has remained vigorous.”
Watson, the first head of the Human Genome Project, who was honored in May by having his entire genome sequenced and published online, then notes something that I’ve been pointing out here on VDARE.com for some time: The countdown has already begun to the final understanding of the genetic underpinnings of IQ differences. He says:
“In showing that human genes do matter, behavioral biologists will no longer be limited to comparisons of fraternal and identical twins. Soon the cost of sequencing the A’s, T’s, G’s, and C’s of individual DNA molecules will drop to a thousandth of what it has been, thereby transposing our studies of behavioral differences to the much more revealing molecular level.”
“The relative extents to which genetic factors determine human intellectual abilities will also soon become much better known.”
As the countdown proceeds, the hysteria will only mount on the part of those who want to cover up the findings.
In his book’s penultimate paragraph, Watson raises The Forbidden Subject:
“A priori, 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.”
“Rather than face up to facts that will likely change the way we look at ourselves, many persons of goodwill may see only harm in our looking too closely at individual genetic essences.”
(Here, Watson, a famously ornery son-of-a-gun, shows some unexpected—and, sadly, undeserved—graciousness in referring to his future demonizers as “persons of goodwill”.)
Watson ends his autobiography with a brief but telling exchange with then-acting Harvard president Bok:
“So I was not surprised when Derek asked apprehensively how many years would pass before the key genes affecting differences in human intelligence would be found. My back-of-the-envelope answer of ‘fifteen years’ meant Summers’s then-undetermined successor would not necessarily need to handle this very hot potato.
Upon returning to the Yard, however, I was not sure that even ten years would pass.”
The 77-year-old Derek Bok, the son-in-law of famed Swedish socialist economist Gunnar Myrdal, is the co-author of a popular book defending affirmative action a.k.a. quotas in college admissions, The Shape of the River. So he had a particular reason to hope the dread date would fall well out into his dotage—when nobody would ask him embarrassing questions about why he institutionalized punitive discrimination against, notably, white males.
My conclusion: As we see in this global slander of a great scientist, the conventional wisdom among the elites is that, if it turns out that some fraction of the race and sex gaps in IQ are genetic, then our civilization simply cannot survive: Who knows what those yahoo American voters would do if they even suspected the truth? They’d probably dig up Hitler’s DNA, clone it, and elect Adolf 2.0 President of the United States!
Thus, any academic like Watson or Summers who violates the omerta, the code of silence, must be publicly humiliated to encourage the others—as Voltaire famously quipped. Global security depends upon our relentless lying!
So let’s step back, take a breath, and think about this calmly.
The fundamental fact: the final word on the race-genes-IQ linkage is likely to come in the next decade or two simply as a byproduct of crucial medical research.
Personally, I’ve never been wholly convinced that the racial gaps in IQ have a genetic component (there’s always the Flynn Effect to complicate matters). But I’d definitely offer five to one odds that at least half of the one standard deviation (15 point) black-white gap will turn out to be hereditary. I’d probably go as high as offering ten to one, but not, at present, to one hundred to one.
Still, the data is pouring in, especially from the HapMap project comparing Europeans, West Africans, and Northeast Asians. So it’s only a matter of time before we have a clear picture.
By 2017-2027, it’s probable that the worst nightmare of the conventional wisdom will have come true. The human race will know the horrible, horrible truth …
- What will the world then look like?
- An awful lot like the world we live in now.
Do you think that Derek Bok, if he’s still around, will suddenly turn against affirmative action a.k.a. quotas? Of course not. As Watson reveals in his book, Bok basically knows the score already.
You’d have to be as naïve as Larry Summers to imagine that political attitudes are affected by scientific studies—rather than by self-interest and status-seeking.
Historical footnote: Pope Benedict XIV formally rehabilitated Galileo in 1741, a hundred years after his death.