10/17/07

If this is what it means to win a Nobel prize....

I feel obligated to rant quickly about a Nobel Prize recipient: (no, this is not about Al Gore 's C02 inprint thanks to his private jet, sorry to disappoint)
Our "godfather of molecular biology" James Watson, co-discoverer with Crick of the DNA structure and Nobel prize winner in 1962 apparently said this piece of nugget:
He says that he is "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," and I know that this "hot potato" is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true." He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because "there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level.
Thank you Mr. Watson for acknowledging that "there are many people of color who are very talented". You are truly too kind. Would like me to add some sugar to your cup of ignorant tea ? Watson is just another "brilliant" mind who bases his conclusions on IQ tests that are inherently culturally biased. ( before you retort that they are not, any of those tests are written in Malagasy ? I did not think so..and remember Those are the same brilliant folks who wrote "IQ of the nations" and decided that Madagascar had an IQ of 79 by doing the average of Philippines and Tanzania. Why ? You tell me, apparently it is common knowledge that if you have a 1/2 Philippino 1/2 Tanzanian child is de facto Malagasy :D...sorry I digress...)
This is not Watson 1st nugget either: he reportedly said that In 1997, "that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual."

The question that comes to mind is simple: is there a point where someone says something so mindbogglingly ignorant that we could "un-award" their prior achievements no matter how groundbreaking those achievements were ?

Was the discovery of DNA structure absolute genius ? Absolutely (caveat: apparently a 3rd women scientist may deserve as much accolade for this but did not get the prize). Is it crucial for understanding molecular biology as it is now ? No Doubt. Would I be doing what I do now without his findings ? Probably Not.
Yet, I would love for the Nobel Prize committee to put the dreaded * next to his award. The * would stand for "The person is a great scientist but he lacks basic common sense".
At your workplace , if you behave like a douchebag, regardless of your performance, there is good chance you will get fired. Athletes are getting cut out of their contracts by their team for damaging the image of a team publicly by acting like idiots. Did Watson with his comments not damage the scientific community? Did he not knowingly spite the community that honored him by doubting the intelligence of minorities who have helped him get his Nobel award ?
If you are an aspiring black scientist, would you not feel a bit uncomfortable reading those comments ?
"Do not promote them if they have not succeeded at a lower level". Am I supposed to think that if not for an act of kindness from the scientific community, I do not deserve to be a scientist ? Watson is supposed to be one of the leader of a community that ought to function solely on the bases of logic and reasoning. That statement was based on skewed and imcomplete data, led to the wort possible conclusions and he above all should have known better. I know that geniuses are often lacking in common sense but should that not be pointed out more forcefully if it is the case ?
Watson may have help Science spring forward with his part in the discovery of the structure but he set the community back a couple of years with his foolish comments.

13 comments:

  1. Important data analyses by the Levitt and Fryer on the lack of statistical correlation between IQ and races at a young age.
    That is damming evidence that a genetic link between intelligence and race is very unlikely.

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  2. Lova. "Do not promote them if they have not succeeded at a lower level". Am I supposed to think that if not for an act of kindness from the scientific community, I do not deserve to be a scientist ?

    Hum... Actually, you are supposed to think that you deserve to be a scientist, because you somehow have succeeded at a lower level...

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  3. tnr,
    :), I think that in Watson's mind, whatever I did so far does not qualify as success. He probably thinks that I got by because of some kind of affirmative action policies. Which is why "affirmative action" is such a double-edge sword...
    Have a great week-end,
    L.

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  4. Corinne Raza11:35 AM

    Well, among the positive reactions toward his "lack of common sense", I really appreciate the cancellation of his "lecture tour" in U.K.
    And now, he will have to deal with the controversy here in the U.S.
    But I am pretty sure that he will be able to return to "his normal life-without a problem-soon" because people have SHORT memory!

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  5. Hi Corinne,
    Like you, I am thrilled that the UK took a strong stand against his views and doing it in a dignified manner.
    I also agree with you that it will be old news very soon. The shelf life of events in the public eyes is getting shorter and shorter isn't it ?
    Thank you for dropping by,

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  6. sendra nandalo8:54 AM

    What if the man is right?
    It is like the age of Galileo or Copernicus. The hypothesis that shocked the world. He might state a truth that hurts our heart.
    I am not defending him but I am curious and ask myself "what if".

    We know that there are birds who fly and some don't. They all have wings. The environment played an important role to those species. Birds who do not fly were put in an environment where foods are easy to find and no need to use their wings.
    Similarly, humans in the southern hemisphere are put in an environment that did not allow them to develop their brain as in the humans in the northern hemisphere. The northern hemisphere is too much hard and difficult to live, so they have to develop more skills to find foods, build shelters, tools, and so on.... And then, for many generations and through natural selection, this has created a gap.
    Humans in the southern hemisphere might have developed different skills to survive in their environment but not the same as the de facto standard of the north. The IQ test need different units for each region.
    Remember, we are still animals no matter how intelligent we are (not an alien build by God, and put on the earth).

    Anyway, it doesn't change much to what we already know.

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  7. @ Sendra,
    "What if the man is right?"
    Ok, let's consider this hypothesis: White people are inherently more intelligent than colored people.
    how and when would we test the hypothesis ? Seeing that we are decades away from determining whether a genetic link exists with intelligence, the only possible test is a IQ test. As mentioned earlier, IQ tests with infants show no difference b/w races. Therefore the only bases for making such statement were tests that have to include social context, opportunities and cultural barriers.
    About the natural selection in different atmosphere, if that were correct, would you not expect dominant civilizations to always be from places where they had to be as you said, more skilled to find food or built shelters ? What do we make then of the Mayan civilization or the Egyptian civilization dominating the world ? And the winter in Greece or Rome is much milder than in Germany or Russia yet we know of the Greek and Roman empires....
    Anyway, I am still waiting for solid scientific facts to even allow us to consider that hypothesis. Galileo and Copernicus had some preliminary findings to back up his hypothesis. This one (race link to inteligence) is so far as baseless as they come.

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  8. Sendra nandalo10:04 AM

    I don't want to debate about the race and intelligence. If you go to look at the Wikipedia, you will find the necessary information. I am not sure if it is accurate or not but you can have the basic ideas.

    I said the northern hemisphere not only some region in this area. Maya region, Egypt, and all great civilizations are located in the northern hemisphere. There is no exception up to now.

    To clarify my point on the climate and the evolution of human mind, I may recommend you to look at the homepage of Dr. William Calvin (neurologist, psychiatrist, brain surgeon).

    The common sense says:
    - the world is flat, the sun rises and sets, and so on.
    Those are not at all contradictory to Galileo discoveries for everyone after 500 years.

    Ignorance is a bliss!
    Good luck!

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  9. Hi Sendra,
    I think I see what your point is.
    You would like for people to look beyond political correctness and the obvious common sense and be open to all theories. I can go along with that as long as there are at least one plausible hint to the reason for the theory and that it is stated as a theory and not a fact.
    I agree with the premise that the brain evolves with the environment that you place it in. Obviously, someone who went to school has a different set of neuronal connection after schooling that someone who did not. However, the evolution of someone's brain is not transmitted by some magical feat to his genetic information carrier, namely your gonads. Therefore, your brain might evolve but your spermatozoa/oocytes did not. Therefore, you cannot say that one family, one country or one race has a genetic advantage when it comes to intelligence. Unless one can train one's gonads to think, race and intelligence is not linked on a genetic level.
    On a sidenote, I am well-aware that Egypt, Mexico and Greece are located in the Northern hemisphere. Your point, if I understand you correctly (and I think I did) is that the conditions in the northern hemisphere were more difficult than in the Southern hemisphere, which forced the northerners to adapt faster and think more. To which I reply that the conditions for the Mayan and Egyptian civilization were NOT more difficult than anywhere else in the South. Therefore the whole Northern hemisphere theory is moot.
    Ignorance is indeed a bliss but I am not sure why you would say that here.
    Take care now,

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  10. daody1:57 PM

    I would like to see the study about a black man having a lower level of intelligence.
    The man is just a racist pig.

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  11. daody2:02 PM

    First of all,a lot of africans still don't go to school, it does not mean that africans are stupid or less intelligent.
    It is all about education.

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  12. @daody,
    yep, how the opportunity to go to a better school would NOT be a factor in IQ test measurements is amazing to me. It has to factor in somewhere, right?
    The truth is, it is a dead-end issue, and for Watson to have brought it up is just stupid.
    Glad we agree on this :D.

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  13. sendra nandalo6:58 AM

    Hi Lova,

    You said:
    However, the evolution of someone's brain is not transmitted by some magical feat to his genetic information carrier, namely your gonads. Therefore, your brain might evolve but your spermatozoa/oocytes did not. Therefore, you cannot say that one family, one country or one race has a genetic advantage when it comes to intelligence. Unless one can train one's gonads to think, race and intelligence is not linked on a genetic level.

    Who knows. Check the story of the "nobel prize sperm bank".

    Take care, you too.

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