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The DNA of racism

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William Crawley | 22:06 UK time, Wednesday, 17 October 2007

24-watson-inside.jpgThe London Science Museum has cancelled a scheduled public lecture by Dr James Watson, the Nobel prize-winning discoverer of DNA, after he made a statement which many would regard as racist. Dr Watson was due to give a talk at the museum on Friday.

A spokesman for the museum said the comments by the 79-year-old scientist had "gone beyond the point of scceptable debate". In an interview with the Sunday Times, Dr Watson explained 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 ... "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true".

This is a fairly sparse summary of what the Nobel laureate said -- and, of course, a presumed difference in intelligence does not in itself imply inferiority. The context, however, supports the conclusion that Dr Watson regards black Africans as less intelligent than, say, white Americans or Europeans.

Is this view in itself "racist" or merely an account of demonstrable evolutionary differences between "races"? That's a question that James Watson is now facing, and it's one that Richard Lynn, a former professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, has had to face for many years. In his most recent book, Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis, Lynn argues that

East Asians (Chinese, Japanese and Koreans) have the highest mean IQ at 105. These are followed by the Europeans (IQ 100). Some way below these are the Inuit (Eskimos) (IQ 91), South East Asians (IQ 87), Native American Indians (IQ 87), Pacific Islanders (IQ 85), South Asians and North Africans (IQ 84). Well below these come the sub-Saharan Africans (IQ 67) followed by the Australian Aborigines (IQ 62). The least intelligent races are the Bushmen of the Kalahari desert together with the Pygmies of the Congo rain forests (IQ 54).

This book draws together Lynn's academic research over many years, including comparative studies on race differences in intelligence. In 1991, for example, he argued that the average IQ of black people in sub-Saharan Africa is approximately 70, whereas the average IQ of black people in the United States is approximately 85. Lynn offered this theory to explain this kind of difference in IQ:

When early humans migrated from Africa into Eurasia they encountered the difficulty of survival during cold winters. This problem was especially severe during the ice ages. Plant foods were not available for much of the year and survival required the hunting and dismembering of large animals for food and the ability to make tools, weapons and clothing, to build shelters and make fires. These problems required higher intelligence and exerted selection pressure for enhanced intelligence, particularly on the Orientals.

It is one thing to engage in this kind of psychometric analysis, it is quite another to draw conclusions from this analysis about the geo-political problems facing contemporary Africa. James Watson may wish to reflect further on the role white Europeans (with high IQs) have played in creating some of the gloomy conditions in Africa which prompted his curious comment.


Well I guess there's two questions here about what Watson said. (1) Is it racist? and (2) Is it true?

Anyone who wishes to value truth should not find it racist in principle to ask the question if all races are equally intelligent. Given our evolutionary ancestry we should not, I'd suggest, be surprised if there are differences between the races, strengths and weaknesses inherent in the races. Is it racist merely to report those differences? Or to ask if there exist such differences?

Maybe the answer to (1) is only 'yes' if the answer to (2) is 'no'. If black people are not less intelligent than white people then the statement, I believe, is racist. And I don't believe that black people are less intelligent than white people (I've seen no basis for such a conclusion and there appears to be a myriad of evidence which suggests otherwise).

So my own answer is that what Watson said is racist, and that that is so because it isn't true.

  • 2.
  • At 02:29 AM on 18 Oct 2007,
  • farhan wrote:


To my fellow Somalis

I just want to let you guys know that we are all Somalis and we shall think our country first not gabil...peace

farhan gudone

  • 3.
  • At 04:18 AM on 18 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Where I come from we have a word to describe James Watson and that word is chutzpah. Watson is a prize winner all right but he and his fellow conspirator Crick should have gotten a prize for the world's most audacious grand theft or for acting instead. These so called geniuses DID NOT discover the structure of DNA as the Nobel Prize they stole claims. That distinction goes to Rosalind Franklin a British born radiologist. How the discovery was made and stolen was explained on the American PBS televion program NOVA.




The description on the link it too kind. The actual television program strongly suggests that in the world of big brains, Watson and Crick were a pair of third rate hacks who didn't have the brains to discover the structure of DNA on their own. Taking credit for it was out and out fraud. Too bad he didn't speak and someone wasn't there to challenge him with the facts and ask him why he and Crick took credit for someone else's work. They should be called Witless and Crook.

Watson is wrong about a lot of things and he is wrong again in his statements about Africans and people of African decent. How do I know? If he isn't, how does he explain this man, my fellow classmate and alumnus;


In comparing the intelligence of the two men, Watson and Warde, Dr. Warde makes James Watson look like some kind of pre-human sub species, a mental Neanderthal. But we don't need to go that far, Watson's own words speak for themselves.


Anyone who wishes to value truth should not find it racist in principle to ask the question if all races are equally intelligent

I agree and would not feel it racist if someone found that the peak of the bell curve in intelligence for the Chinese or Japanese was slightly higher than the peak of the curve for my own genealogical haplogroup.

Indeed within any single haplogroup there is a bell curve in which some members are in the genius end of the curve and others are in the end of the curve classified as 'a wee bit slow'.


Having read a lot about the discovery of the structure of DNA I agree with you that Watson's contribution verges on the trivial. I get the impression he was a lucky plodder playing with four puzzle pieces and noticing how they paired. Referencing what I said to John, I suspect that Watson is in the lower half of the bell curve for his particular haplogroup. [He is, however, in the upper half of any bell curve that may exist for luck or fortunate happenstance ;-)]

Crick, in my opinion, did have good intellectual sparks though his opinion of himself may have been overboard at times.

Whatever way you cut it Rosalind Franklin was cheated (and I don't think that is too strong a word - her boss Wilkins was a bit of a coward in how he dealt with her) out of the recognition she should have received for the 'discovery'.

I wonder if she had lived would the Nobel Prize committee have awarded her the prize - my suspicion is the committee would not have awarded it to her. But then committees that award Al Gore a 'peace prize' for flawed science while ignoring the contributions of Reagan and Thatcher in ending the cold war leave me 'cold'.


  • 5.
  • At 12:27 PM on 18 Oct 2007,
  • mahatana wrote:

The problem here is that the proof is not displayed.

Did he care about the food? or simply the color of the skin?

Let us talk bout IQ if it is the proof. How many people in Africa took the IQ test? Did he go to the peaceful mountains and valleys? Was the test based on our mother-tongue or some other languages? Was it related to our culture or yours?

The cold and stuff are very ridiculous arguments. Sahara is a desert, remember.

May be he is right but we need some proof before accusing our skin color.

  • 6.
  • At 01:16 PM on 18 Oct 2007,
  • Gee Dubyah wrote:


I have no particular axe to grind, but the role of the X-Ray crystallography photograph is I think more widely known than you realise. Perhaps it was news to you I for one have always known Franklin's work was involved, and it features in most school biology lessons here in the UK.
I do think you are deriding the work of Watson and Crick a little strongly. But you do tend towards the dramtic don't you?

The real truth is thet the photo was the trigger for the Eureka moment - why didn't it pull Franklin's trigger? Because Watson & Crick knew their stuff better......

As regards this race stuff, that is really unpalatable. I think Will sums it up perfectly: "It's one thing to engage in this kind of Psychometric analysis, quite another to draw conclusions ... about geo-political problems in Africa".

Nuff said.

  • 7.
  • At 02:42 PM on 18 Oct 2007,
  • Amenhotep wrote:

Watson is right off-beam here. Greg Laden has taken him to task on his blog: https://gregladen.com/wordpress/?p=1535

Good to see Farhan on the list - Somalia is the birthplace of one person who shows James Watson's remarks to be completely bogus - at least in the specific. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is one of the most intelligent, courageous and admirable people on our planet.

Will - now *there* is someone you should try to secure an interview with.

Michael- I agree.

All- Remember this is not just about Africa, it's about people of African descent, black people. Yet it should be obvious that there is no shortage of highly intelligent black people: I believe it shows Watson to be racist but not automatically for even raising the issue, if you get my point.

  • 9.
  • At 01:08 AM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • redden wrote:

What is this thing called IQ, is it the ability to thrive in modern tech oriented society? If so it seems by nature skewed against all those outside this environment. If the measure of intelligence were the ability to thrive in the hostile environments of the much of the 3rd world, my guess is the vast majority of us would be considered retarded.

Redden- Exactly. There are more environmental factors involved in IQ than intelligence factors.

By the way, Sue Blackmore writes in today's Guardian a decent article, in part disagreeing with me about this.

  • 11.
  • At 06:37 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Hard to imagine a European thinking there is actually someone in the world dumber than they are. And Watson is supposed to be one of their best. What a breed. Must be something in the water that stunts mental development when they're still foetuses. Anyone want to argue the point? Before you say yes, think about France :-)

  • 12.
  • At 11:03 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Gee Dubyah wrote:

Crikey Mark change the record.
Say something new for once.

  • 13.
  • At 11:09 PM on 19 Oct 2007,
  • Amenhotep wrote:

The funny thing is that people used to say this sort of thing about us Irish, and look how bloody smart *we* turned out to be, eh? I mean, take PB for example! Flippin' *genius* there.

It's easy for folks to get all antsy and self-righteous about this, but the bottom line is that these are the ramblings of a twit, and should be treated as such. If he was trying to make a serious point, as a scientist he should present us with data to back up his hypothesis. No data? Then, dear Jim, stand for election to Lisburn City Council. It would be difficult to lower the collective average IQ there. Should fit right in.

  • 14.
  • At 03:09 PM on 20 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

So just how clever are the Irish?

From Wikipedia;

"England adhered to the Roman Catholic church for nearly a thousand years, before the English church separated from Rome in 1534, during the reign of King Henry VIII. A theological separation had been foreshadowed by various movements within the English church such as the Lollards, but the English Reformation gained political support when Henry VIII wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled. Under pressure from Catherine's nephew Emperor Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Pope Clement VII refused the annulment and eventually Henry, although theologically a Catholic, decided to become Supreme Head of the Church of England to ensure the annulment of his marriage."


And as a result, Irish have been killing each other over it for over 400 years. Just think, when America became an independent nation, it had been going on for 200 years already. And they've only stopped just a few years ago. As a result, things have started getting better. Imagine how much better they would already be if they had quit say...after just 300 years. :-)

  • 15.
  • At 08:48 AM on 21 Oct 2007,
  • Gee Dubyah wrote:

Let's see what are we criticising Watson for here.

Heinous crime 1 - Gross generalization and inappropriate stereotyping. Mark in post 3 claims this is the domain of sub humans. interesting... In this context how are we to interpret your comments in Post 14 Mark?

Heinous crime 2 - Explicit racism and assumptions of superiority. The blight of Human modern history and to be despised by all right minded folk. Can you tell us Mark, how we should read yoour post 11?

Finally, your Kindergarten representation of Ireland's most recent 400 years serves to underline the position from which you speak. Once again, any schoolboy or girl will be able to tell you that the religious strife is the symptom and not the cause - but if you are happy stereotyping, carry on. What puzzles me is how you can criticize James Watson for lazy stereotyping and come out with this nonsense yourself.


You need to be careful with your remarks.

We Irish have no principles but we are prepared to die for them!


  • 17.
  • At 12:25 PM on 22 Oct 2007,
  • Philip Campbell wrote:

Ineresting that the Bible teaches that we are all part of ONE race - ie the Human Race. All men are equally loved by God - and equally in need of fotgiveness in Christ.

Can't help thinking it would be interesting to have a discussion on Evolution and racism - one of the more uncomfortable implications of the theory.....?

  • 18.
  • At 09:35 PM on 22 Oct 2007,
  • Amenhotep wrote:

Well, Philip, evolution tells us that men, women and children are all part of ONE species, i.e. homo sapiens, and that altruistic behaviour is usually an optimal strategy. If you want biblically-inspired racism and genocide, I suggest you go to 1 Samuel 15.

Your reaction to that would be interesting, and I suggest you ponder it in the light of your thinking on racism. How would you feel if you happened to have been an Amalekite? What if you were an Amalekite who traded with the Israelites, and had previously got on rather well with them, and had made some good friends? What if you happened to be an Israelite who had fallen in love with an Amalekite girl? How would you feel if the Amalekite religion wanted to set up a place of worship in your street?

That god was a *nasty* wee shit, wasn't it? It's a good job that sensible people don't believe in it any more.


  • 19.
  • At 12:24 AM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Gee Dubyah wrote:


what would you like to tell us about evolution and racism?

Surely you aren't suggesting the variation in Humans might lead to further speciation?

Wouldn't that be a bit like admitting it actually does happen?

Perhaps you'd like to tell us we should put our heads in the sand - just like the Church did during Hitler's racist adventure? or the slave age? Or the crusades? Or .. well you get the picture...

  • 20.
  • At 01:28 AM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Dylan Dog wrote:

"Can't help thinking it would be interesting to have a discussion on Evolution and racism - one of the more uncomfortable implications of the theory.....?"

It really never ceases to amaze me at the wilful ignorance from those on the "Bible-believing" community.

Philip why not tell us these "implications"(cue a rush of canards,mis-quotes etc from creationist websites).

Please Philip let us have a discussion...

Perhaps Philip we could have a talk on how Bible-believers supported racism/slavery(based of course on the unchanging word of the Bible)Eg., how it was Bible-believers who mostly supported the slave trade(Slavery is of God) and I am aware of Wilberforce but he was one of those intelligent Christians. Or perhaps of the Southern states in the US eg., the KKK, segregation, lynching etc(none of which were done by those pesky liberal secularists!) or racist Bible-believers such as Bob Jones or Jerry Falwell(who both funnily enough had a *cough* miraculous conversion from racism when the federal govt*damn secularists* threatened to remove federal funding from their institutions!) The lord does work in mysterious ways!

Funny that all of them based their stauch opinions on the *unchanging* word of the Bible(The children of Ham etc)which errr changed!(funny what money can do!)

Lets leave at that Philip! as I could also bring in Bible-believing anti-semites!

ps. in case any jumps down my throat when I mention "Bible-believers" I am *not* lumping in the vast majority of Christians just those on the very vocal lunatic extremes.

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