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.