Friday, October 19, 2007

Another witch burned

From the BBC website here.

The Science Museum has cancelled a talk by American DNA pioneer Dr James Watson after he claimed black people were less intelligent than white people. Dr Watson, who won a Nobel Prize in 1962 for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, was due to speak at the venue on Friday. But the museum has cancelled the event, saying his views went "beyond the point of acceptable debate".
Skills Minister David Lammy said Dr Watson's views "were deeply offensive". He added: "They will succeed only in providing oxygen for the BNP. It is a shame that a man with a record of scientific distinction should see his work overshadowed by his own irrational prejudices."

James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, was essentially ambushed by the Sunday Times into saying something controversial. His remarks have been met by a torrent of hostility and abuse, most of it directed at Professor Watson himself. The BBC piece above is one of the milder reports.

Not a single response has addressed the possibility that Watson might actually have been correct. In the Sunday Times article, Watson expressed dismay about the prospects of economic and social development in Africa, given that testing has shown that the mean IQ of sub-Saharan black people is around twenty IQ points below the global norm of just under 100.

Here are some questions: just say no to any of them to avoid the conclusion.

1. Do people differ in intelligence?
2. Can intelligence be measured?
3. Did humans evolve from less-intelligent ancestors?
4. Does humanity consist of groups with slightly different evolutionary histories? (Usually classified at top level as African, east-Asian, Caucasian).
5. As well as the well-known physiological adaptations to climate and environment (skin colour, body size and shape, tolerance to milk, etc), could there have been similar brain adaptations bearing on personality and intelligence?

So there you are. If you said “NO” to any of the above, you are committed to:

1. Everyone has exactly the same intelligence.
2. Intelligence differences, though they may exist, have no measurable consequences.
3. There is no evolution.
4. There are no identifiable human groups.
5. Intelligence and personality are in principle invariant across human populations, despite the evolution of diverse physiological characteristics.

Once we agree there might be intelligence and personality differences between human groups based on differing evolutionary history, the scientific response is to try and find whether they actually exist, through empirical research.

Although few people seem aware of it, this work has actually been done. See “Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis” by Professor Richard Lynn. This is a scholarly tome by the head of the department of Psychology at the University of Ulster. Follow the link for a review of the book’s conclusions and user comments (here).

I suspect it was this work which Professor Watson was referring to.

Human group differences in personality are mentioned in passing in MacDonald’s fascinating paper "Personality, Evolution and Development" here.

The existence of racial differences in intelligence and personality is logically possible on the basis of evolutionary theory - and according to well-founded scientific research they do seem to exist.

Just as acknowledging that men and women are different does not make one sexist, and that noticing that some people are quite old does not make one ageist, acknowledging that intelligence and personality differences between defined human groups really exist does not make one racist. In particular, these are results about group statistics, not about individuals.

However, in matters of public policy, such aggregative facts make a difference. In a world of wishful thinking, such problems would not exist, but sadly, we don’t live in that world.

Humanity has a habit of demonising those who acknowledge inconvenient truths. Please let's defend such brave individuals - after all, it's so much safer and easier just to duck down and let a delusional consensus persist.