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Rather sweeping, my dear Watson

Posted on | October 18, 2007 | 1 Comment

When the world is rather angry, you can count on Science to make it even angrier. James Watson (who won the Nobel Prize for his work on DNA) has made some interesting comments to Times Online, later reduced and paraphrased by ABC News.

His comments reflect on research that he’s analyzed indicating that people of African descent might not be as ‘smart’ as people of other origins. Yes, you read that correctly (likely, three or five times just as I did , to be sure).

I’m not going to touch on his research, expertise or knowledge as I’m a blogger and he’s won the Nobel Prize. I’d like to ask one very simple question:

What is ‘smart’?

Building atomic weapons was a very mindless thing to do, however this involved many smart people, very few of them of African descent.

Oh, Tim, resist the temptation to fire up your browser and dig history (ahem, the Crusades , [ sorry, that one slipped ]) to bring to light thousands of events that threatened the survival of our species which people of African descent had very little (if anything) to do with.

Watson is talking in evolutionary terms (his comments on this have nothing to do with DNA, go read the articles). Smart, in Watson’s context would indicate a disposition to avoid things that might not be good for preservation of our species.

Anthropology and cultural tainting were factors that were not touched on in his comments. Yes, many wars rage in Africa, however, war is not at all exclusive to Africa. In fact, war (on the scale that its waged today) is a relatively recent visitor to Africa if you broaden your historical perspective a bit.

Then, yes, we must consider the ‘gangstah’ (aka gangster) mentality. There are many people of African descent in the world, some of them are inflicted with this mentality. There are many people in the world, lots of them are inflicted by this mentality. I don’t see evidence of some kind of exclusivity, am I missing something? I’ve been on both sides of the planet, thugs thrive everywhere.

I think I’m going to take in a viewing of The Gods Must Be Crazy while I shake my head and wait for my jaw to close :) Many, many organizations have already retracted offers for Watson to speak. I hope that they do this simply on the grounds of very bad Science nurtured by a very limited perspective. I don’t think that Watson is a racist, I think, perhaps, he’s just too ‘smart’ for his own good on this point.


One Response to “Rather sweeping, my dear Watson”

  1. tinkertim
    October 19th, 2007 @ 10:41 am

    As expected, Watson has apologized for his remarks shortly after this story broke out in a blogging frenzy.

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