Thing Is, James Watson’s Right, Intelligence – IQ – And Genes Are Related

What the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory decides to title people who have retired from that organisation is entirely up to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. It’s of no more moment to the rest of us than your wife’s pet name for your willy is – if it is possible to be so normative as to insist upon wife, willy and the existence of a pet name. However, it is also true here that James Watson is correct, there is an intimate relationship between our genes and our intelligence – IQ if you like to think of intelligence that way. It’s a fairly basic observation about the way that evolution and species development works that this be so.

We can, for example, observe that dog – canis whateveritis – DNA is different from that of us homo sapiens sapiens, as are the average intelligence levels of the two species. We can also note intelligence differences within the dog population. French bulldogs are noted as being very sweet and good natured but as with humans we describe that way not possessed of greatly blinding intellect. Those who have taken a collie into their homes quickly find out what it is like to be the pet of one.

We can dig a little deeper and insist that if intelligence wasn’t gene derived then it would never have arisen in the first place.

Against this we have an insistence, largely from the left, that we humans are tabula rasas. Blank slates to be written upon by society and our environment, there is no difference in intelligence or talent between any of us as we come naked into this world. Equal outcome will thereby be guaranteed by equal treatment. A prominent advocate of this line of not thinking is Danny Dorling, currently a professor of geography of some type at Oxford. Who has argued that anyone, with the correct environment and training, could become just such a professor. A useful response being that apparently someone has.

The most basic contention of Watson is correct though:

“I would like for them to have changed, that there be new knowledge that says that your nurture is much more important than nature. But I haven’t seen any knowledge. And there’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites on IQ tests. I would say the difference is, it’s genetic.”

Now, whether this is important or not is another matter entirely. But it is true. IQ tests do show average differences.

Just to switch examples, we do know that genes vary across what we call races – despite it being true that there’s no real concept of race in humans. There’s, well, actually, there’s just genetic variation among us. But these variations are more than just about melanin enhancement or eye colour. The sprinting events at the Olympics are dominated by those with West African genetic heritage, the longer distances by those with East African. No, this isn’t culture, we can in fact find differences in fast twitch musculature and all that.

Obviously, this is all about averages. No one at all is saying that the average person with West African genetic heritage should thus be a sprinter nor that everyone whose grandfather hailed from Kenya should be forced into doing marathons. They can indeed be President instead.

But even then averages can be important. There must be a reason why varied Ivy Leagues have preferential admissions for those of African levels of melanin enhancement and caps – as is alleged at least – on those more recently from SE Asia or, perhaps, possessed of an epicanthic fold.

We can also point to the critique that IQ tests are themselves culturally biased, meaning that what appears to be intelligence in a whitebread culture like Duluth is not intelligence in a different culture in Djibouti. An entirely valid point and one that we can test. Look at those with the gene load common to Djibouti who have been a generation or two in Duluth.

There’s even nutrition to consider, those lacking a diet of a certain level will have had their bodies skimping upon brain development in youth. This is well known. Again, we can test for this and observe those with different genes in the same food environment.

The end results of all this testing – the most obvious place being to look at identical twins raised together and apart as contrasts – is that Watson is thus entirely correct about the basics here. IQ is most certainly related to genes and to the extent that we think IQ measures intelligence then so is that.

This has absolutely nothing at all to do with any moral worth or value as one of God’s special little snowflakes. It’s simply a measurement of one specific attribute. It ought to be no more controversial than observing the linkage between certain immunities to malaria and sickle cell anaemia. That it isn’t, that it is that third rail of academic politics, is because of that widespread and incorrect belief in the tabula rasa.

Watson might be correct here, he might not be:

A scientist whose DNA discovery won him a Nobel prize has been stripped of the last of his honorary titles after he repeated a belief that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites.

It’s absolutely true that some pinkish people like me are intellectually inferior to those blessed with a greater melanin expression – I’m one of them too, one of those with that intellectual inferiority. On average? I don’t know. And if I were to try to find out I’d look to one of those Big Brains who were experts in this sort of thing. You know, maybe one of the people who figured out one of the crucial building blocks about how this whole inheritance thing works, genes, DNA and all that?

Even if the answer given was one not politically palatable.

The bottom line is simply that what Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory wants to call one of the best brains that ever deigned to work there is up to them. We can all make up our own minds as to the merits of their decision as no doubt we all will. My own observation being that it’s rather sad that it will be politics, the cultural kind, which drives those decisions rather than any objective truth about what James Watson, NL, has actually said.

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Rhoda KlappShadeburstThe MoleGrope_of_Big_HornMartin Sewell Recent comment authors
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Martin Sewell
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The mean IQ difference between blacks and whites in the United States is about 80 per cent heritable. The mean IQ difference between Africans in Africa and Europeans in Europe is likely only 50 per cent heritable because of the environmental differences between the two populations (especially in terms of nutrition and health).

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

But Africans in Africa start from a lower IQ base than the African-American population in the US, who are largely mixed-race to some extent. As for nutrition, health, education and poverty, one might look at cause and effect as interchangeable. By which I mean poor people anywhere are generally less intelligent than better-off people in the same environment.

There is too much idealistic wishful thinking in this debate, always was. But now there are punishing people for well-considered fairly-held opinions.

The Mole
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The Mole

I totally agree that there will be a genetic disposition to the various types of intelligence (treating it as a single ‘thing’ that can be measured by a single number is obviously flawed in itself); and as you say there will be variance across clusters of people with similar genetic makeup (lets call that races for convenience). The level of variance across each population (along with nurture factors) is likely to be very high so that you probably can’t use it as a predictive measure for any individual (in the same way you couldn’t guess relative marathon performance between a… Read more »

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

This is all known, and covered in the controversial tome ‘The Bell Curve’. Upshot is that the distribution and magnitude of IQ (as measured by standford-binet and other methods) is different between populations selected by race. It just is. That doesn’t mean an Ashkenazi Jew ( the population which shows highest) will never meet a black person (lowest, variously) who is smarter, as a single example, but a population-wide comparison will show some races doing better than others. The shape of the curve will differ too, some having larger proportions at the high and low extremes. Now the question is,… Read more »

The Mole
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The Mole

I think the question is perhaps better framed as whilst we accept these at the population level what impact should it make at the individual level? I think the answer there is that we should it it as irrelevant and treat them as an individual. Of course treating as individuals mean that we should not set quotas based on race or other attributes, and accept that the distribution may not match that of society as variences occur.

Grope_of_Big_Horn
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Grope_of_Big_Horn

‘set quotas . .’ Eh?
The best finding ( according to the legendary JP ) in social science is that differences within groups exceed differences between groups, so everyone should be judged on their merits. This doesn’t stop diversity advisers and pandering politicians ( Hello Chuka ) insisting from the same information that there should be quotas.

The Mole
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The Mole

Yeh there should have been a not in there.. edited it

Shadeburst
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Shadeburst

There’s nothing about black skin that makes its wearers inherently less intelligent. Much of Africa has only within the last few generations emerged from feudal tribalism. A typical tactic of a petty dictator is to keep one’s eyes open for potential challengers. Once identified, said challenger would be removed from society and from the gene pool. Ambition being a proxy for IQ, the best and brightest were culled the hardest. That’s all it is.

Rhoda Klapp
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Rhoda Klapp

“There’s nothing about black skin that makes its wearers inherently less intelligent.” That’s true, about the skin. But populations with all of the genetic heritage of Africa do have a bell curve shifted to the left by a standard deviation or more. Why, given the universality of this result to the extent that serious researchers have to be shouted down, would one assume it is not hereditary? Sub-saharan Africa, or at least the aboriginal population thereof, never achieved anything much. No cities, no writing, whatever you want to measure. As stated above, that doesn’t mean the next black person you… Read more »