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Anything but Elementary, Dr Watson

Any topic related to science can be discussed here.

Were Dr Watson's opinions, as reportedly expressed, legitimate science?

Yes
1
20%
No
3
60%
Undecided
1
20%
 
Total votes: 5

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Nick
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Anything but Elementary, Dr Watson

#1 Postby Nick » October 25th, 2007, 9:19 pm

So, Dr Watson, Nobel prizewinner, has been hounded out of his job for expressing a view which may be right or may be wrong: that Sub-Saharan peoples are generally genetically of lower IQ than others. Is the science against him strong enough for him to be labelled a racist, or is the world running scared of themselves being called racist, and consequently stifling science?

There are plenty of concerns about how intelligence is measured, but it is by argument and counter-argument, by peer review, that science advances. No-one is helped if underlying facts and argument are suppressed.

If it helps, have a listen to Radio 4's Moral Maze......

... I was about to give you the web-link for this, but all I found was this:

We are sorry, but due to unforeseen circumstances the audio-stream for this programme is not available


From my interpretation of the programme, Watson was completely vindicated (but not necessarily proven) by the panellists.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but my first instinct is that some PC idiot has thrown a spanner in the works. There may be danger in truth, but there is always danger in lies.

:angry:

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tubataxidriver
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#2 Postby tubataxidriver » October 25th, 2007, 10:27 pm

I think if maybe he had said that African development was difficult because African culture is different and that developed countries had to adapt their approaches accordingly, he would have been on safer ground. However, he did not take this approach, neither did he comment on levels of education in Africa (which are often lower than in developed countries) and their potential impact on development, neither did he suggest that his reason could be one of several interactive and multifactorial issues. He went straight for the "race / intelligence" angle, for which he has been rightly condemned.

Tom Rees
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#3 Postby Tom Rees » October 26th, 2007, 10:08 am

What Watson was expounding was an opinion. Opinions aren't science, although science can (and should) inform them).

Illegitimate science is science confounded by malpractice (i.e. cheating in your experiments), and scientific experiments that aren't approved by appropriate legal or ethical committees. Neither of those apply here.

Watson's opinion was plain wrong, by the way - unnsupported by the weight of evidence. And I can see why Cold Spring Harbor took the opportunity to offload him. He's an administrator, remember, not a scientist any more. Administrators that don't have the respect of the staff, and which can't pull in the grants, are no use.

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Nick
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#4 Postby Nick » October 26th, 2007, 5:08 pm

tubataxidriver wrote:I think if maybe he had said that African development was difficult because African culture is different and that developed countries had to adapt their approaches accordingly, he would have been on safer ground.

He might have been on 'safer' ground in that he would not have been attacked by the scientifically ignorant pc lefties, but he would have not been contributing anything to the scientific debate.

However, he did not take this approach, neither did he comment on levels of education in Africa (which are often lower than in developed countries) and their potential impact on development, neither did he suggest that his reason could be one of several interactive and multifactorial issues.


I don't think he was isolating intelligence as the only factor. Education and culture are important, of course, but a geneticist is not going to be able to offer much to that debate by way of professional expertise.

He went straight for the "race / intelligence" angle, for which he has been rightly condemned.


But what if he is right? Should he still be condemned?

There are, of course plenty of arguments to be had, not least defining and measuring intelligence, but there seems to be a political veto placed on any discussion. Physical characteristics are clear to see in different races- just compare the Japanese and Samoan rugby teams. The Oriental races, I'm told, have a lower tolerance to alcohol than European races. Black people (in Britain at least) are more prone to sickle cell anaemia than their white neighbours. It would strike me as odd if intelligence, which must have increased from that of our common ancestors, has not increased at different speeds. Intelligence must also have a physical origin, surely? To say otherwise requires specific scientific reasoning of which I have seem none. To block research and discussion does not help the pc cause. If Watson is right, then we must deal with it and find solutions to the inevitable problems. If he is wrong, then science should be able to prove him wrong and allow us to progress in finding solutions to Africa's problems. After all, the 'Big Bang' theory was coined by Boyle, who advocated the Steady State theory, which has now been discarded. We must have honesty in science.

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Nick
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#5 Postby Nick » October 26th, 2007, 6:16 pm

Tom Rees wrote:What Watson was expounding was an opinion. Opinions aren't science, although science can (and should) inform them).

Come, come, Tom. That won't do. His opinion is based on his interpretation of science. He may be wrong, but how can anyone say anything without it being reduced to a mere 'opinion'?

Illegitimate science is science confounded by malpractice (i.e. cheating in your experiments), and scientific experiments that aren't approved by appropriate legal or ethical committees. Neither of those apply here.

Agreed

Watson's opinion was plain wrong, by the way - unsupported by the weight of evidence.

That may be true, but has been drowned out by screams of racist. Let's see the evidence, and let him be proved wrong.

And I can see why Cold Spring Harbor took the opportunity to offload him. He's an administrator, remember, not a scientist any more.

Given his stature in the history of science, and his long list of (now cancelled) lectures, and his history of rescuing the research facility from near bankrupt to a multimillion dollar annual budget, I think it is most unfair to call him a a mere administrator. He does more than count paper-clips, even if all he does is to be wheeled out and wave.

Administrators that don't have the respect of the staff, and which can't pull in the grants, are no use.
Nor are those who are pilloried with reason.

By all means attack his science. For all I know his is 100% wrong. Let's see the evidence.

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crabsallover
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Re: Anything but Elementary, Dr Watson

#6 Postby crabsallover » October 29th, 2007, 12:00 am

Nick wrote:
If it helps, have a listen to Radio 4's Moral Maze......

... I was about to give you the web-link for this, but all I found was this:

We are sorry, but due to unforeseen circumstances the audio-stream for this programme is not available


From my interpretation of the programme, Watson was completely vindicated (but not necessarily proven) by the panellists.
:angry:


the Moral Maze programme is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/aod/radio4_a ... /moralmaze

ONLY until Wednesday 31st October. Also check out the message board:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbreligion/F22 ... ad=4707975

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Nick
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#7 Postby Nick » October 29th, 2007, 7:55 am

Thanks for that, Chris. Maybe I was jumping to my conspiracy theory too readily. I wonder what the true reason was? Legal review perhaps?

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Oxfordrocks
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#8 Postby Oxfordrocks » October 30th, 2007, 9:22 am

Certainly an interesting man.
Dr Watson has courted controversy before, saying darker-skinned people have a higher sex drive and that women should hypothetically have the right to abort fetuses that “may have a tendency to become homosexual”.

He has also backed genetic screening.



http://allafrica.com/stories/200710292015.html
http://www.myjoyonline.com/features/200710/9986.asp
There are three fundamental questions for anyone advocating staying in EU.

1. What, precisely, are the significant and tangible benefits of staying in the EU?
2. What damage to the UK and its citizens will be caused by leaving EU?
3. Should the supreme court ruling on British subjects be based in UK?

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#9 Postby Tom Rees » October 30th, 2007, 10:09 am

Nick wrote:Come, come, Tom. That won't do. His opinion is based on his interpretation of science. He may be wrong, but how can anyone say anything without it being reduced to a mere 'opinion'?


That's exactly what I mean. You can't have an 'illegitimate' interpretation of the science - the word illegitimate implies illegal, rather than merely incorrect. You can have illegitimate science, (scientific experiments that should be and are banned). Opinions, though, can be freely expressed. Dr Watson is free to draw whatever conclusions he likes - so loing as he doesnt mind people calling him an idiot!

I think it is most unfair to call him a a mere administrator.


I didn't call him a 'mere' adminstrator - I called him an administrator (rather than a scientist). He's a very skilled administrator, and administrators are very important. But they are a different kettle of fish.

Scientists can hold whatever revolting and stupid opinions they like, as far as I'm concerned - so long they do good science. Administrators, however, have to perform a leadership function, and as such have to toe the corporate line. This is especially the case with the Chancellor of an institute - who is the institute's figurehead and representative. If you take on the role of Chancellor, then you accept that you are representing the opinions of the institute (if you want to keep your job, that is).

By all means attack his science. For all I know his is 100% wrong. Let's see the evidence.


Where to start? How about the myth that intelligence is a single, linear construct? http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/523.html . Then there's the observation of the importance of nurture (e.g. the Flynn effect). Then there are the variety of concepts of race that are generally employed that, in fact, border on mythology...

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Nick
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#10 Postby Nick » October 30th, 2007, 1:17 pm

Hi Tom, and thanks for your response.

I’m displaying some lower intelligence myself, as I’m not sure quite what you mean in some of your opening paragraph, so please advise if I have got the wrong end of the stick. Are you suggesting that researching intelligence should be illegal? I appreciate that some experiments should be illegal, but illegal science? Are you suggesting that Watson’s conclusions are not based on science?

I don’t mind if Watson is called an idiot, and his ‘black employee’ reference was certain to cause offence, but OTOH, he was expressing sorrow at the prospects of Africa, not a Nazi supremacist conceit.

I understand what you mean by ‘administrator’ and yes, I am happy with your definition, but do you not credit him with any worth as a scientist? That seems a bit harsh, when non-Nobel laureates opine about science in the BHA science group. He may have been an injudicious administrator, in that it has had a negative effect on the institute, but should he have said something he doesn’t believe in order to keep his job?

Me? I’m not a scientist. There’s no doubt there! So I don’t quite know what you mean by a single linear construct. I will also need more time to read the blog cited, and yet more to understand it! But let me set out what I can see with my unscientific eye.

Different people have different levels of intelligence. Some people are brighter than others, generally, as well as specifically in certain fields. It therefore seems legitimate for science to try to measure it. There will always be problems with quantifying such a slippery customer as ‘IQ’, but science should try. There are also factors which affect IQ results. The nurture of those tested, their skill in responding to the test etc., but again, science and statistics should seek to evaluate those also. In the same way, there must be some useful way of categorising people into groups. We are always being told that we are 99% the same as apes, but hey, I wouldn’t let an ape drive my car! The 1% can be pretty damned important! I am sure there have been classifications of ‘race’ which have been successfully employed by science. Maybe we should use a different word to ‘race’, but are you really saying there is no way or reason to classify people into related groups, who share common characteristics or genetics?

As for the Flynn effect, I’m sure that’s true. But statistical analysis can take that into account when reaching conclusions. If the methodology is unsound, then the answer is to make it more sound, not abandon the project.

It’s a sensitive issue, but I get the feeling that it is being reduced to gibes of racism.

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#11 Postby Tom Rees » October 30th, 2007, 4:33 pm

Nick wrote:..so please advise if I have got the wrong end of the stick. Are you suggesting that researching intelligence should be illegal?


Hi yes, sorry that’s not what I was trying to say. My basic point is that I can’t vote in your poll on whether Watson’s are illegitimate, because I don’t think it’s a meaningful question. I think his views are legitimate, meaning that he’s free to hold them if he wants, but they are also wrong. Also, they are so profoundly wrong and essentially racist that it means that his position as Chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor is untenable.

I understand what you mean by ‘administrator’ and yes, I am happy with your definition, but do you not credit him with any worth as a scientist?


Certainly yes – he’s done some good science in his time (more than I have…). But my point was he was sacked from an administrator post, not a scientist post. If he was sacked from a scientific post for expressing unpleasant views then I would be with you shoulder to shoulder in expressing outrage. But he was sacked from an administrator post, which I think is perfectly reasonable. Scientists and independent individuals should be free to say whatever they like. But Chancellors are not – and for good reason.

should he have said something he doesn’t believe in order to keep his job?


Nobody made him go on a lecture tour and spout off on the subject. It’s his choice to say whatever he likes, but there are some things which are not compatible with holding the post of chancellor. CSH needs to have someone as chancellor who represents them.

There will always be problems with quantifying such a slippery customer as ‘IQ’, but science should try … Maybe we should use a different word to ‘race’, but are you really saying there is no way or reason to classify people into related groups, who share common characteristics or genetics? … As for the Flynn effect, I’m sure that’s true. But statistical analysis can take that into account when reaching conclusions.


There’s a lot of research on intelligence – the problem is that there is no one measure. You can’t line people up in order of intelligence (even in theory). Same as with athletic ability – both David Beckham and Anna Kournikova are great athletes, but who is better? It’s a meaningless question. Different people are good at different things.

You can classify people genetically in all sorts of ways. But there is no genetic test that can reliably place an individual in one race or another. You can’t go from population statistics to individuals like that. Then – and particularly telling – there is more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world put together. The idea that ‘African’ is a race from a genetic standpoint is crazy! What’s basically happened here is that people are trying to justify old-fashioned racist concepts (i.e. people with black skin are degenerate) with genetic terminology. In fact, skin colour is an epiphenomenon that tells you virtually nothing about genetic heritage.

And finally, regarding nature vs nurture. In theory you can account for it but in practice it’s impossible, because an individual’s environment is dictated by their skin colour – e.g. you can’t transplant a black baby into a white household and expect that it will be treated like all other kids when growing up.

So in summary. Intelligence is a huge, complicated subject – not the simple one that some people would like to believe. Race, too, is meaningless in the terms that it is used in this debate (different samples of individuals have different frequencies of genes, but all samples overlap and there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ race). And the environmental effects are so profound and so pervasive that it’s impossible to confidently remove them from the analysis.

I have no doubt that genes contribute to intelligence, and that gene frequencies differ throughout the world. But I have seen no evidence to justify the claim that skin colour is linked to intelligence, and in fact I find the question frustrating naive!

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Nick
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#12 Postby Nick » October 30th, 2007, 5:15 pm

Thanks Tom, for such a thorough answer. I've got to head off to meet a client, so I haven't time to comment just now, but I hope to grope a little nearer to an understanding in due course, so maybe there'll be a further question or two!


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