Friday, October 19, 2007


Dr. Watson finds himself in deep doo-doo with other scientists:
There is wide agreement among researchers on intelligence that genetic inheritance influences mental acuity, but there is also wide agreement that life experiences, even in the womb, exert a powerful influence on brain structure. Further, there is wide disagreement about what intelligence consists of and how — or even if — it can be measured in the abstract.

For example, in “The Mismeasure of Man,” Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist, dismissed “the I.Q. industry” as little more than an effort by men of European descent to maintain their prominence in the world.

Nevertheless, Dr. Watson, 79, is hardly the first eminent researcher to assert that inherited characteristics like skin color are correlated to intelligence and that people of African descent fall short. For example, William B. Shockley, a Nobel laureate for his work with transistors, in later life developed ideas of eugenics based on the supposed intellectual inferiority of blacks.

His ideas were greeted with scorn, and Dr. Watson is encountering a similar reaction. According to the BBC, the Science Museum of London canceled a speech Dr. Watson was to have given there today, saying that much as it supports robust discussion of controversial ideas, Dr. Watson’s assertions on race and intelligence are “beyond the point of acceptable debate.”

Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, a private group that works to bring science to policy making, said it was “tragic that one of the icons of modern science has cast such dishonor on the profession.” (emphasis added)

Dr. Kelly, I could not agree more.

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