Smart People Saying Stupid Things

It’s really depressing to see one of the pioneers of modern science spouting a load of racist nonsense. It’s rather like hearing Sir Patrick Moore blame women for falling standards at the BBC a few months back. Something in me wrongly assumes that people of science should be less prone to irrational prejudice, but of course we’re all flawed in the end, and we all carry with us assumptions that took root very early in our lives. Still you would think that an understanding of DNA would bring with it some sense of that fact that we are all fundamentally the same as a species. And you would think that a devotion to science would bring with it a spirit of challenging ingrained assumptions. I find it hard to excuse not only the sheer scale of his prejudice but also the need to shout about it as if it were something to be proud of.

Watson of course co-discovered the structure of DNA, but here he seems to be mouthing off about the intelligence of Africans based purely on his own opinion. He vaguely cites test scores but it’s often discussed that this kind of intelligence test is notorious for the difficulty in separating pure intelligence from in-built cultural and societal assumptions that influence how well people from different backgrounds and languages are able to perform. But the nail in the coffin is his entirely anecdotal and offensive suggestion that “people who have to deal with black employees” find that they are not as intelligent. Apparently he’s been even more offensive on the subject of homosexuality in the past so maybe this isn’t out of the blue. I’m not one for stifling debate but good on the Science Museum for taking a stand on this one.

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