Sunday, October 21, 2007

Prejudice: The Watson Case

In the recent flap over public comments by James Watson, one of the things that strikes me is the odd misuse, in attacks on him, of the term "prejudice."

A prejudice is a belief held in advance of the evidence. Watson's biological claim--that human populations that have spent a long time separated from each other in different environments can be expected to differ in heritable characteristics--is so obviously true that I find it hard to imagine anyone honestly denying it. His application, his conclusion from his own observation that sub-saharan Africans are on average less intelligent than Europeans, may or may not be correct, but without knowing what his observations have been it is hard to see how one can know that it is due to prejudice.

Unless, of course, one knows in advance that Watson's conclusion is false. So far as I can tell, there is literally no evidence to support that position. At least, in all of the arguments on the subject that I have observed, those arguing for racial equality of intelligence do so not by producing evidence that it is true but by arguing that the evidence that it is false is inadequate or mistaken. Even if all of their arguments are correct, the conclusion is not that we know that racial groups don't differ in intelligence but only that we don't know if they do, or if so how.

Watson's comment was surely tactless as well as imprudent; his conclusion may, for all I know, be mistaken. But all of the prejudice so far exhibited in the case is on the other side.

74 Comments:

At 10:02 AM, October 21, 2007, Blogger TAYLOR said...

He just said they were "less intelligent" without stating how much less intelligent, correct? Because I keep reading news reports and opinion columns where people claim he said blacks are "stupid." One article at EbonyJet.com had the author saying, "now I may not be a smart man..."

It's easy to get hurt feelings over something like this, but it'd be nice if critics stuck to criticizing things Watson actually said. Charging him with race baiting or claiming that blacks are "stupid" or of no intelligence is not accurate, whatever someone thinks about what he DID say.

 
At 4:11 PM, October 21, 2007, Anonymous Steve B. said...

In the CNN article, he isn't quoted as saying they're "less intelligent"; the closest quote I can find to this is "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours, whereas all the testing says not really."

I don't know what was actually in Watson's mind, but psychometricians have been talking for decades about "different intelligences" -- abilities at symbolic manipulation, spatial reasoning, social interaction, verbal reasoning, etc. that could all fall under the heading of "intelligence" but don't necessarily correlate well with one another -- and that interpretation is consistent with the literal reading of his words.

It is a well-documented fact that people of different races score differently on standardized IQ tests. Since most of those tests were written by people of European extraction, it's not surprising that people of European extraction usually score the highest. For all I know, both Watson and I would do quite poorly on an intelligence test written by a !Kung bushman, even trying his best to be culturally and linguistically neutral. If the bushman and I really have significantly different mental strengths and weaknesses, it stands to reason that a policy written for me to implement wouldn't work well for him, and vice versa.

Then again, it's possible that Watson really did mean "the scientific evidence shows that sub-Saharan Africans are overall less intelligent than Europeans." In which case the response should be "show us that evidence," rather than "you shouldn't have said that."

 
At 4:16 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger Beastin said...

David,

You have frequently decried the doctrine of assumed equality on this blog. I would agree with you that such a doctrine exists and that it is illogical, but I don't think that this fact excuses disparaging comments regarding women or various races. We don't have any convincing method of determining (or even denoting) the relative intelligence of populations, so definitive comments about such things are highly suspect. The notion of a link between race and intelligence falls into the broad category of ideas that certain people want very much to believe but for which hard evidence is lacking. I don't feel it is unreasonable to assume that people who hold them are, in fact, prejudiced.

The prejudice of inequality is more inflammatory than that of equality because it has been used historically to justify so many evils. Slavery, warfare, slaughter, and abuse have often (perhaps more often than not) been justified by claiming that some group of people were inferior or evil. From Socrates to Hitler, men have readily employed whatever evidence they could find of disparity to defend unconscionable behavior. Thus, any trend towards labeling classes of people lazy or stupid or evil is, and should be, frightening, since it's much more likely to be a reflection of the labelers than a dispassionately observed truth.

My apologies for the excessively moralistic tone of this post.

Bryan Eastin

 
At 4:36 PM, October 21, 2007, Anonymous Dave A said...

I think it's the part where he talks about dealing with black employees that pushes it towards being categorized as racism rather than science. Of course, there doesn't seem to be a complete record of what he actually said so it's hard to judge. The line regarding dealing with black employees is always half-quoted and I haven't been able to find a full transcript of what he actually said.

 
At 5:35 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger Mike Huben said...

Sometimes, David, your sophistry amazes me.

Watson has said:

"I am mortified about what has happened," Watson said. "More importantly, I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.

"I can certainly understand why people, reading those words, have reacted in the ways they have. To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

Watson knows his conclusion is false. Pretty much everybody did. Except maybe you.

And evidently you misunderstand the nature of scientific truth (according to Popper.) You write: "those arguing for racial equality of intelligence do so not by producing evidence that it is true but by arguing that the evidence that it is false is inadequate or mistaken." A hypothesis such as racial equality can never be proven. It can only be disproven. When it has withstood long and vigorous testing, it is considered (tentatively) true.

That's why in more ways than one your argument is sophistry: you rely on ancient Greek methodology of argument rather than enlightenment scientific methodology.

 
At 7:51 PM, October 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"My apologies for the excessively moralistic tone of this post."

Apologies not accepted. Anyone old enough to be using a computer ought to know that it has been the doctrine of equality, the very same force that generated the outcry against watson's remarks, which has caused the most death and mayhem in our recent history.

 
At 8:06 PM, October 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Watson knows his conclusion is false. Pretty much everybody did. Except maybe you."

Yeah. Just like you would totally trust every confession by guantanamo inmates.

When a man makes two completely opposite statements, why is it that you, without hesitation, choose to believe the one that is, to put it excruciatingly mildly, the more fashionable one?

 
At 10:26 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mike writes:

"Sometimes, David, your sophistry amazes me."

And sometimes your naivete amazes me. The man makes a politically unacceptable statement. He is fiercely attacked for it, suspended from his position, defended by essentially nobody. He backs down and retracts the statement.

And you seriously take that as evidence that he thinks what he said was false.

 
At 10:27 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Steve writes:

"It is a well-documented fact that people of different races score differently on standardized IQ tests. Since most of those tests were written by people of European extraction, it's not surprising that people of European extraction usually score the highest."

It might not be surprising, but it isn't true. The usual result reported is that people of European extraction, on average, do better than people of sub-saharan African extraction and worse than people of East Asian extraction.

 
At 11:04 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beastin writes:

"The notion of a link between race and intelligence falls into the broad category of ideas that certain people want very much to believe but for which hard evidence is lacking. I don't feel it is unreasonable to assume that people who hold them are, in fact, prejudiced."

How do you know hard evidence is lacking?

As we have just observed, any serious academic who argues one side of the question is putting his career, and to a considerable extent his future, in peril. Given that situation, anyone not himself a professional in the field or close has no way of evaluating the strength of the evidence.

We know that standard IQ tests show racial differences--and, interestingly, that not all of those differences favor Europeans. We also know that the tests are an imperfect measure of innate intellectual ability. Under those circumstances there is some reason to support one conclusion, although perhaps not adequate reason, none to support the other.

Hence people who assert with confidence that there are no differences are either lying about their beliefs or prejudiced. People who assert specific differences may or may not hold that view out of prejudice.

And, again as we have just seen, there are very strong reasons in our society to believe, or at least claim to believe, in innate equality whatever the evidence. If you are looking for sources of prejudice, wouldn't the experience of Watson, or of the ex-President of Harvard in the gender context, suggest strong reasons for prejudice in favor of a belief in innate equality of ability?

Beastin goes on to write:

"The prejudice of inequality is more inflammatory than that of equality because it has been used historically to justify so many evils."

You don't need that belief to get war, slavery, and the like. Humans have a strong tendency to identify "us vs them," with or without such beliefs. Slavery, in particular, existed in classical antiquity in contexts where no racial justification was possible.

And, I should add, you don't get rid of the belief by suppressing discussion of the evidence--you just make it hard to figure out what the truth is. People who want to believe in the superiority of their own group will still do so.

Beyond that, I am reminded of a point made by, I think, C.S. Lewis--that every culture is most worried about the faults that are least dangerous to it, the faults that are the mirror image of what is actually wrong with it.

Our culture imposes an intellectual orthodoxy of axiomatic equality--not only by race but by gender, where the idea is wildly implausible on evolutionary grounds, since males and females differ precisely in their role in reproduction, and evolution selects for reproductive success. People who openly question that orthodoxy are punished for doing so.

So naturally we worry that what threatens our culture is the willingness of people to believe in the existence of innate differences.

 
At 11:26 PM, October 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And, I should add, you don't get rid of the belief by suppressing discussion of the evidence--you just make it hard to figure out what the truth is. People who want to believe in the superiority of their own group will still do so."

Exactly.

As an ideological voyeur who has trolled supremacist websites of all kinds, id like to second the fact that supremacism isnt exactly driven my scientific considerations.

 
At 11:29 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

I'm willing to believe that there may be differences in average IQ between races, but I wonder why it matters so much, and why the idea generates so much heat.

A small difference in average IQ doesn't mean that one race as a whole is more intelligent than another. There will be considerable overlap. If you deal with people as individuals, you'll find intelligent people and stupid people in all races.

Surely it's best to deal with people as individuals and take them as you find them. Talking about the average IQ of a whole race just encourages people into the fallacy of thinking that all people of the same race have the same characteristics.

I deplore witch-hunting of people for pursuing scientific research; but pursuing research into the average IQ of different races seems to me not only tactless but rather a waste of time and money.

Especially as IQ is only an index number attempting inadequately to summarize a wide range of different mental abilities.

 
At 11:59 PM, October 21, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jonathan writes:

"Surely it's best to deal with people as individuals and take them as you find them."

I agree.

"Talking about the average IQ of a whole race just encourages people into the fallacy of thinking that all people of the same race have the same characteristics."

The problem is that the assertion that differences don't exist, treated as axiomatic, has consequences, some of them undesirable. It isn't a problem at the individual level, but it is when people are discussing averages or aggregates.

In particular, it means that all differences in outcomes get attributed to discrimination. This is probably more of a problem in the case of gender than the case of race, but it's a problem in both.

I should add that I'm not arguing that Watson should have made the statement he did. I don't know the exact context, not having heard the speech, but it sounds as though he was at least tactless.

But that strikes me as a much lesser offense than the behavior of those who attacked him--who were actively trying to suppress free discussion of the issue by pretending it was already settled in the way they want it to be.

 
At 3:01 AM, October 22, 2007, Anonymous sportember said...

Standardized IQ tests are designed to be race agnostic, aren't they? If I'm not wrong, "standardized" just mean that.

 
At 3:34 AM, October 22, 2007, Blogger Jonathan said...

David, thanks for your quick reply. As usual, you express yourself well, and I have to agree with you on every point.

Indeed, my own contribution wasn't intended to disagree with you, but just to make some additional points, which I think were worth making in this context.

 
At 7:31 AM, October 22, 2007, Blogger William Newman said...

Beastin wrote: "The notion of a link between race and intelligence falls into the broad category of ideas that certain people want very much to believe but for which hard evidence is lacking. I don't feel it is unreasonable to assume that people who hold them are, in fact, prejudiced."

In ddfr's response he begins "How do you know hard evidence is lacking?" and goes on to point out how much abuse people take for studying it.

I wouldn't say that hard evidence is lacking, exactly, but I would say that it is exceedingly murky, mixed up with poorly-understood but known-to-be-large confounding effects (notably the Flynn effect). I am close to Beastin in my reaction to people today who claim to see genetic differences between general intellectual abilities of racial groups. I am close to Friedman when he says that studying genetic differences shouldn't be taboo, and that we can and should deal with whatever we find.

I rather expect we'll find the real differences are fairly insignificant, and not highly correlated with what existing stereotypes would predict. And whatever we find, I confidently predict it will be little more than a stiff breeze in the storm of related weirdness we're flying into: (I haven't read _Future Imperfect_, but) each of artificial intelligence, performance-altering changes on existing people, and genetic manipulation of offspring seems like much bigger deals than any plausible size of differing racial tendencies in mental ability. And those are just the foreseeable things, and there's no reason to expect that foreseeable things are going to be more disruptive than things that we can't foresee.

(And on sexual differences, I go beyond Friedman. The respectable position seems to be that there is no underlying reality to any stereotypical male mental advantages, but that women are so consistently naturally superior in inborn childrearing ability that for the good of the child they should get legal preference in custody disputes. Individually either position seems arguable. But it's harder to justify holding both positions simultaneously. And if one holds both positions simultaneously, it seems unreasonable then to make moralistic attacks on people who take inborn male mental differences as an explanation of observed performance differences in stereotypically-male fields.)

 
At 2:06 PM, October 22, 2007, Anonymous Jon A said...

There is plenty of sound scholarship to support the idea of racial inequality. Check out the three books listed at http://www.wspublishers.com/watson.php. I have read all three, and can safely state that the science in all of them is sound, and none of them is "bigoted" or "racist."

 
At 5:06 PM, October 22, 2007, Anonymous pwyll said...

I've read "Race differences in intelligence", one of the books in jon a's link. At the beginning, the author points out that if you want to say anything meaningful about race & intelligence, you have to define the terms. GNXP is a good source for both. GNXP on race:

here

GNXP on intelligence:

here

GNXP on the heritability of intelligence:

here

FWIW, the author comes up with the following racial IQ averages:

east asian: 105
european: 99
inuit: 91
southeast asian/pacific islander: 87
amerindian: 86
west/south asian: 84
sub-saharan african: 67
australoid: 62

More data points: Ashkenazi jewish IQ averages have been estimated as high as 115, so david is being modest when he says east asians score highest. African-americans score much higher (85) than africans, implying that a significant amount (but not much more than half) of the difference is environmental.
The european IQ standard deviation is about 15 IQ points, so there's substantial "overlap" with other populations.

The Flynn effect has led to rising IQs worldwide, but the racial gaps have remained. Furthermore, the effect is likely largely a raising of the lowest IQ members of the population through better nutrition, along with a change in the cognitive stimuli in the environment, as flynn himself has recently noticed that the effect has been very unequal in various IQ test sub-areas.

 
At 6:00 PM, October 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"African-americans score much higher (85) than africans, implying that a significant amount (but not much more than half) of the difference is environmental."

Actually, the average african american has a good deal of european in him.

"The european IQ standard deviation is about 15 IQ points, so there's substantial "overlap" with other populations."

Thats a popular claim, but if i plot two graphs, one (m=115,s=15) and one (m=70,s=15), i really have to wonder what definition of 'substantial' is being used.

 
At 7:21 PM, October 22, 2007, Anonymous pwyll said...

Yes, the average african american has a significant fraction of european admixture, but it's not enough to raise IQ from 70 to 85... this point is addressed in the book as well. Regarding overlap of distributions, you're right that the ashkenazi-african distributions don't have much overlap, but I was thinking of the american white/american black distributions, which have significantly more. La Griffe du Lion has more info:

here

and finds m=84/s=13.3 for blacks vs m=100/s=15 for whites. There still isn't a *huge* overlap, but it's significantly more than the example you gave.

 
At 10:48 AM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...


"...Africans are on average less intelligent than Europeans, may or may not be correct, but without knowing what his observations have been it is hard to see how one can know that it is due to prejudice."


Well, the burden of proof is on the side of the one who makes the claim, sir. Watson not only claimed that Africans are less intelligent (as a race) but also blamed African poverty on this lack of intelligence (since "we", the superiors, act toward them as if they were our equals which, according to Mr. Watson, is not true).


"Unless, of course, one knows in advance that Watson's conclusion is false. So far as I can tell, there is literally no evidence to support that position"


Does one one in advance that his conclusions are true? If not, the irresponsibility is on his side, not on his opponents'...


"Watson's comment was surely tactless as well as imprudent"


His comments are even more
reprehensible taking into account his life experience. This is not just one more polemic discussion. he claimed that a "race" is inferior in intelligence based on "our data" that is far from conclusive.

It is never too much to remember how much ethnic cleansing was made in the past based on "scientific evidence" that some races were "not as intelligent as ours"...

 
At 10:54 AM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

Oh, and I forgot to quote Watson:

"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"."
(mine emphasis)
link here


I wonder where he gathered his "scientific data" on the black employee problem....

 
At 11:56 AM, October 23, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Paulo writes:

"It is never too much to remember how much ethnic cleansing was made in the past based on "scientific evidence" that some races were "not as intelligent as ours"..."

That's often said or implied, but I'm not sure it is true, simply as a matter of history. Anti-semitism has at least as often been based on the opposite idea--that Jews were particularly clever and so manipulated everyone else. You can see that quite clearly in Henry Ford's writing.

Black slavery was justified at the time, I believe, largely on biblical grounds--that the blacks were the descendants of Ham.

Ethnic cleansing in the Balkans seems to have been based on the idea that some other ethnicity was the enemy, largely on religious grounds and past conflict.

I think the biggest example of killing on racial grounds in post WWII history would be the Hutu/Tutsi conflicts in southern Africa. Do you think the participants were motivated by having read up on pseudo-scientific evidence that the other group was less intelligent?

Where is there a historical example of ethnic cleansing based primarily on "scientific evidence" that some races were "not as intelligent as ours"..."? The closest I can think of would be Nazi views of Slavs--but that didn't result in attempted genocide, although it might eventually have done so if they had won.

As you say, the burden of proof is on he who makes the claim, and you've made a (historical) claim.

 
At 12:23 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Tom Crispin said...

We do not have a transcript of Dr Watson's conversations with the writer. While the quotes attributed to him are consistent with his published history, the extent to which writers are willing to incorporate 'fake but accurate' quotations into their work is consistent with Dr Watson's apology in which he states that he can't believe he made the statements in question.

It is entirely possible that statements attributed to Dr Watson not in fact literal and are instead the writer's summary of the more complex and nuanced and entirely ungrammatical conversational remarks made by Dr Watson.

It is more newsworthy to write "he said 'X'" than to write he "said that X".

I reserve judgement.

 
At 12:35 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

Not all claims of race superiority, as you pointed out, are based on scientific evidence but they all are, needless to say, racist.

The excuses vary according to the "audience" .

And, yes, Nazi Germany was an example in which science was used to "prove" race superiority.

For example:

http://hgs.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/21/1/55


"In the early twentieth century, German natural scientists carried out sophisticated studies based on empirical research methods. The Nazis sought to situate their racism in this tradition. They were supported by many scientists, who thereby conferred legitimacy on Nazi racism..."

(and a quick google search will surely add more)


The fact that Watson, being who he is, made such lousy remarks make it even more condemnable. He, more than many, should know that by making such statements he should be either with the proof in hands or ready to accept severe criticism (which did not seem to be the case given his apologies).

The naivety of his words is so striking that they were easily rebuked by New Scientist based on the fact that "intelligence researchers don't have a clear idea what that[intelligence] means".
(see link

I agree with Dr. Schnupp's in that "Watson's comments make it very clear that he is an expert on genetics, NOT on intelligence" .

Therefore, his comments should be taken as personal opinion, not knowledge. For this reason, I think all the criticism he has been receiving is, to say the least, fair.

 
At 1:31 PM, October 23, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

Except that last I heard race was basically non-existant in genetic terms, unless you're trying to differentiate the "chimpanzee" race from the "bonobo" race from the "human" race.

-Unnr
(I KNEW that course would be good for somehting ;))

 
At 5:27 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Except that last I heard race was basically non-existant in genetic terms"

Im affraid that the last you heard was from the same massive propaganda campaign that is trying to silence Watson.

Race as understood in this context is an anthropological term: its not a well defined concept within biology, and anyone claiming otherwise is, intentionally or not, trying to bullshit you. That said, the anthropologial definition does happen to have a very distinct basis in biology. You can even tell if someone has ancestors from japan or scandinavia just by looking it their genes. If you just think a second about arguments such as '99.99 percent of all genes are shared, therefore race doesnt exist', you could already know what kind of orwelian movement it is that 'you last heard from'.

 
At 5:30 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Not all claims of race superiority, as you pointed out, are based on scientific evidence but they all are, needless to say, racist."

Where did he use the word 'superior'? If i said dark skinned people are better at resisting UV, am i claiming race superiority?

 
At 6:57 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

uh,

let's go back to his words:


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"


by claiming that "their" intelligence is not the same as "ours", I don't think he was claiming inferiority...

By the way, I am still waiting to see the citations about "all the testing".

Also, and I repeat myself, I would really like to see the "scientific basis" with regard to "people who deal with black employees"... (and yes I once more assume he was not claiming the the black employees were smarter....).


if said dark skinned people are better at resisting UV, am i claiming race superiority?


With regard to the ability of your body to absorb radiation, yes. That is actually the reason why black people are better adapted to warmer climates whereas white people probably would die under such conditions.

And, yes, this is a well-known scientific fact (just go to the beach with a black friend on a sunny day with no protection and wait for the empirical evidence - btw. I am assuming you're white ).

Now if I claim that "dark skinned people are better at resisting UV", hence Africa is poor, well, that would probably sound crazy, right?

If you look at Watson's remarks, that was pretty much what he said. It was actually worse, because the "fact" he claims to exist does not.

You could look to the other side and think: hey, Europeans all have the same intelligence, right? So why the heck there are countries like Albania and Norway not that far from each other?

One might say: "oh, it's because of societal/economical issues, etc..."

Well, I think there are A LOT of issues involved in Africa's poverty that come before this ridiculous discussion, started by Watson, about "their intelligence". And I am baffled that James Watson (the guy from that 1 page Nature paper who caused a revolution in genetics) would be so naive to even enter this discussion with no "cards in his sleeves".

A funny thing I see in this discussion is that, although people complain that "everyone is trying to shut Watson up", what I hear most is people trying to shut his critics up, as if Watson was some kind of deity (in a Darwinian sense, of course), floating above us with the right to say everything that comes to his mind (even "facts" that do not exist) with no accountability...

 
At 8:14 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"by claiming that "their" intelligence is not the same as "ours", I don't think he was claiming inferiority..."

No, he wasnt doing that either. He was making an observation without attaching any value judgement to it.

"By the way, I am still waiting to see the citations about "all the testing"."

The raw data is pretty much indisputed. You know of any researcher thats even claiming there is no such thing as a measured IQ gap? Id like to see that.

"Also, and I repeat myself, I would really like to see the "scientific basis" with regard to "people who deal with black employees"... (and yes I once more assume he was not claiming the the black employees were smarter....)."

Yes, thats where he definitely crossed the line outside of the scientific realm, i agree.


"With regard to the ability of your body to absorb radiation, yes. That is actually the reason why black people are better adapted to warmer climates whereas white people probably would die under such conditions."

Yes, better adopted to warmer climates. Lighter skin is no coincidence either though: a dark skin in less sunny regions can be pretty problematic if you dont have access to supplementary vitamins.

The point being: dont jump to conclusions regarding value judgements, just stick to the observations.

 
At 8:28 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

Paulo,

Maybe him getting massively attacked in the press, having his already-committed speaking engagements cancelled, and then getting fired gives some of us the impression he's being silenced?

 
At 10:00 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe him getting massively attacked in the press, having his already-committed speaking engagements cancelled, and then getting fired gives some of us the impression he's being silenced?"

No man, substantiated critique on a weblog, THATS silencing. THATS the real problem here.
[/sarcasm]

 
At 10:26 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

Anonymous:

the IQ gap is disputed. And most studies show that environmental conditions, and not genetic, are determinant of such gap.

http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-IQgapgenetic.htm

Albatross:

Maybe him getting massively attacked in the press, having his already-committed speaking engagements cancelled, and then getting fired gives some of us the impression he's being silenced?

Well, I don't think he's that worried about his job. As for the press, whenever he wants to give his opinion, they will be there. So, his voice WILL be heard.

As for the cancellation of events, well, people can choose who they are going to listen to, right?

As Portuguese poet Antero de Quental once wrote about an older colleague known for stupid remarks:

"futility in an old man disgusts me as much as gravity/seriousness in a child. One needs 50 less years of age or 50 more years of reflexion" (sorry about the bad translation)

Watson is not a beginner and likes controversy. In respect to his intellect I prefer to believe he knew pretty well what he was doing (you know, when one is 80 years old one is more worried about his legacy than mundane facts).


Otherwise, I will have to believe he was deliberately lying (about the scientific evidence) just to create some polemic.

In either case, my opinion of him as a person is much lower now. And, believe me, I am not happy about it.

PS - From Slate. It seems that Watson's interview was recorded

 
At 11:22 PM, October 23, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Paulo links to an interesting page citing studies which provide evidence against a black/white genetic IQ difference.

The problem is one I have already alluded to. For each of those studies, one can think of plausible explanations of why it would have failed to find such a difference even if it existed. In addition, the list of studies was compiled by the creators of the web page, who are obviously not neutral on the issue.

That means that someone who actually wants to know whether such a difference exists can't tell if the page is giving a fair summary of the existing evidence or is selecting a subset of tests, biased in one way or another, chosen because they reach the desired answer.

The usual way of dealing with such problems is open debate in the scientific community. But that has been made impossible by the sort of behavior that Paulo is supporting.

Any serious academic who wrote a carefully researched book examining the evidence and concluding that the difference did exist would suffer very serious personal, social and professional consequences. Similarly for one who did original research that provided strong evidence for the differences.

Someone who provides evidence on the other side of the debate will suffer no such consequences--rather the opposite. That makes it in practice very difficult for an outsider to judge which side is right.

And, I should add, the fact that one side of the debate engages in such tactics provides at least weak evidence of a bad conscience--that many of the people who proclaim their belief in innate equality are afraid that if there were an open debate the evidence would not support their view. That, after all, is the obvious argument for shouting people down instead of arguing with them--for accusing them of racism instead of offering evidence and arguments that they are wrong.

 
At 11:35 PM, October 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the IQ gap is disputed. And most studies show that environmental conditions, and not genetic, are determinant of such gap."

It doesnt exist yet its cause is environmental?

I read the study you quoted. The do not dispute the gap: they claim they can conjure it away. Lets see how well they fare: they 'correct' for a whole lot of factors. Blantantly discounting the possibility that these factors arnt mere coincidence, but perhaps the result of underlying racial differences. Congratulations, they just proved a theory by assuming it to be true!

Now this would actually be funny if it was an indicent, but the scary part is that this appears to be the norm.

btw, youve got to love sentences like these: 'A genetic study took advantage of the fact that African-Americans genes are about 20-30 percent European, and that Africans and Europeans differ just enough in their genetic blood groups to determine the degree of "Europeanness" in an individual.'.

 
At 12:04 AM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

Mr. Friedman,

if I were a researcher in such a field, knowing all the possible discussions and misuses people could make of such information, I would not make such strong statements without having very substantiated evidence. But this is just me, a john doe.

Dr. Watson, being who he is, bears a much greater authority and responsibility.

My contention is about his remarks being based on very slippery evidence, if any. Not about the scientific discussion.

Notice that Dr. Watson extrapolates his own field to justify his pessimism about Africa's poverty. This is not only a debate about genetics, and Dr. Watson, I prefer to believe, knew that very well. Not to mention his point about the "black employees".

As I pointed out before, there are many environmental reasons that could justify African poverty (scarceness of resources, relation with neighbors, political institutions (cf. Jared Diamond's Collapse)) and the instability of African societies.

It is just a matter of logic to take environmental factors before genetic. Firstly, because the environmental gap does exist. Secondly, the IQ-genetic gap, although much researched, has proved dubious (here is a paper that claims that the black IQ gap has decreased largely due to environmental conditions. I don't think that our genes would change that much over that time scale...).

I think Dr. Watsons's remarks do more damage than good to science. But they do keep Dr. Watson on the spotlight and may even help him to sell his new book.

 
At 12:06 AM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

Anonymous, I do believe an IQ gap exist (yes, there are a lot of dumb and smart people around). I have just not found convincing evidence that is base on race rather than environmental conditions)

 
At 12:23 AM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Anonymous, I do believe an IQ gap exist (yes, there are a lot of dumb and smart people around). I have just not found convincing evidence that is base on race rather than environmental conditions)"

The 'IQ gap' doesnt refer to the distance between smart and dumb people, or standard deviation, but to the difference in mean intelligence between groups of people.

The latter is just the typical false dichotomy. Id say credible cases can be made ranging from 'mostly nurture' to 'a lot of nature'. The 'completely and utterly nurture' position, from which this attack on Watson is launched, is hardly defendable. The fact that it is defended with such zeal nonetheless however, reveals the ideological motivation.

 
At 9:11 AM, October 24, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

Anonymous October 23:

Do you have any references?
My innitial reaction was similar to yours, I'm not an expert on genetics, and my main query was the use of "molecular clock" approaches to dating the earliest humans, but what digging I did was surprising.

I qualified my comment with "last I heard" because I do still feel like there's pieces missing.

Anyway, yeah... any references?

Sincerely,
-Unnr

 
At 9:50 AM, October 24, 2007, Blogger Beastin said...

“How do you know hard evidence is lacking?”

So far as I can tell, the things that we know about IQ (not intelligence) are the following: It correlates well with academic achievement, fairly well with job performance, and not so well with income. Pretty big differences in the average IQ are observable between racial groups but very little between the sexes. It is fairly heritable (so is income). You can improve it through training. Severe malnutrition impairs it, but there is no consensus on the degree to which other environmental factors contribute. And, finally, the average IQ of people of the world has been rising steadily.

I can think of a couple of scenarios consistent with this information. One of them is certainly that some races are less intelligent than others, but others, such as health, culture, and testing bias, certainly present themselves.

That said, having now trawled the web somewhat extensively on this topic, it seems that a majority of researchers in this field believe that these effects are insufficient to account for the variation in the data. I haven't verified any of their statistical arguments, but presumably they know what they are doing. (Otherwise someone who did would be getting a lot of papers published.)

Nevertheless, I feel that it's rather premature to write off Africa as a lost cause based on this amount of evidence.

“As we have just observed, any serious academic who argues one side of the question is putting his career, and to a considerable extent his future, in peril. Given that situation, anyone not himself a professional in the field or close has no way of evaluating the strength of the evidence.”

I think that Dr. Watson's comments can safely be said to have strayed outside the realm of academic inquiry. Plenty of people manage to do this kind of research without getting suspended from their job. Dr. Watson's problem is as much his mouth as his opinions.

Incidentally, I think research into the subject is both interesting and important. It should continue.

“We know that standard IQ tests show racial differences--and, interestingly, that not all of those differences favor Europeans. We also know that the tests are an imperfect measure of innate intellectual ability. Under those circumstances there is some reason to support one conclusion, although perhaps not adequate reason, none to support the other.”

The presumption of equality could only be supported by a lack of evidence of inequality. You might argue for it based on the inconclusiveness of our evidence in the other direction. (I'll admit it doesn't look like a strong argument at this point, but it's not crazy.)

Here's a question for you. The ranking of races by intelligence is strongly reminiscent of stereotypes regarding the studiousness of various races, i.e. Jewish, Chinese, White, Black. Is this a coincidence? If not, does an academic orientation improve IQ or are people with higher IQs more interested in academics?

“And, again as we have just seen, there are very strong reasons in our society to believe, or at least claim to believe, in innate equality whatever the evidence. If you are looking for sources of prejudice, wouldn't the experience of Watson, or of the ex-President of Harvard in the gender context, suggest strong reasons for prejudice in favor of a belief in innate equality of ability?”

Certainly some people have a bias in that direction. I grew up in Oklahoma. Quite a lot of people have a bias in the other direction as well.

“You don't need that belief to get war, slavery, and the like. Humans have a strong tendency to identify "us vs them," with or without such beliefs. Slavery, in particular, existed in classical antiquity in contexts where no racial justification was possible.”

True. It's not a reason. It's an excuse. I thought that classical antiquity was an especially good example because they justified slavery on the grounds that slaves were inferior, but slavery there was not based on race. Even if you believe that some races are inferior I think it's hard to argue that the Greeks whose fathers were conquered in the last cycle of wars are inherently inferior to those whose fathers weren't. There weren't innate differences resulting in the distinction between slaves and masters, but they liked to think so.

“And, I should add, you don't get rid of the belief by suppressing discussion of the evidence--you just make it hard to figure out what the truth is. People who want to believe in the superiority of their own group will still do so.”

Agreed. I have no desire to see research suppressed.

“Beyond that, I am reminded of a point made by, I think, C.S. Lewis--that every culture is most worried about the faults that are least dangerous to it, the faults that are the mirror image of what is actually wrong with it.”

I often think the same thing about our obsession with terrorism. :) But I don't think that most people are obsessed with the equality or inequality of people. Generally, people believe one way or the other and don't pay much attention to anyone else.

“Our culture imposes an intellectual orthodoxy of axiomatic equality--not only by race but by gender, where the idea is wildly implausible on evolutionary grounds, since males and females differ precisely in their role in reproduction, and evolution selects for reproductive success. People who openly question that orthodoxy are punished for doing so.”

The same studies showing that the average IQ varies between races do not show that it varies between the sexes.

 
At 11:27 AM, October 24, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Beastin makes a number of interesting points:

"I think that Dr. Watson's comments can safely be said to have strayed outside the realm of academic inquiry. Plenty of people manage to do this kind of research without getting suspended from their job."

Rushton was threatened with losing his job, as I understand it, and did suffer other costs. He was doing academic research, and even had a coherent evolutionary theory to explain the pattern of differences he claimed to observe.

Obviously not all research on the subject is hazardous. But I think research that ends up strongly on the side of "there are differences, and one of them is that blacks are on average less intelligent than whites" is. And if one side of the argument is suppressed, it's hard to judge what the correct conclusion is.

"The presumption of equality could only be supported by a lack of evidence of inequality."

Yet you have just offered a counterexample in your own post--the case of gender. IQ tests show the average IQ of males and females to be about the same. If they consistently showed that result by race, that would be support for the conjecture of equality--stronger support than the failure of anyone to provide convincing evidence the other way.

And another poster has actually linked to a description of some studies that do provide (some) evidence for genetic equality.

In the case of gender, as I understand it, the mean of IQ is about the same, but the variance is substantially higher for males. There is, I think, a good evolutionary reason why that's plausible. But it also provides an explanation for some observed outcomes, such as the shortage of female mathematicians, that are routinely attributed to discrimination.

 
At 11:48 AM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

David,

I think the male/female standard deviation difference is quite small. It only starts having much of an effect (according to this model) at the tails.

 
At 11:56 AM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

paolo:

Would you hold someone sustaining your own point of view to the same requirements? That is, if some distinguished scientist lost his job as the director of a lab because he said that blacks were probably about the same as whites intellectually, would that be okay, too? Were you offended when Stephen Jay Gould wrote _The Mismeasure of Man_, because he was talking so far outside his area of expertise?

I think it's important to distinguish between whether you agree with the guy (or even think he's a jerk for saying something), and whether you think he ought to be subject to losing his job for it.

 
At 12:25 PM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I qualified my comment with "last I heard" because I do still feel like there's pieces missing."

Ok, i read some sarcasm in that which i perhaps overreacted to.

"Anyway, yeah... any references?"

References to what? My main claim here is with regard to the ideological/non-scientific drive of the rabbid anti nature camp. Several examples have popped up in this thread, but afaik there is no mirror image of 'the mismeasure of man' that i could refer you to on this subject.

 
At 12:41 PM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And another poster has actually linked to a description of some studies that do provide (some) evidence for genetic equality."

Like i noted before, the study described in relative detail there is a joke as far as i can tell.

Many other points crumble at the slightest hint of scrunity aswell. Consider for instance the dismissal of adoption studies because the placement of children might be biased, but at the same time they dont see a problem with comparing IQ of children fathered by american soldiers.

Sure, adoption agencies (subconciously?) try to favor white children, but using a group of people that ended up in the exact same occupation as being representative of the general population is a-ok.

 
At 1:13 PM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

Albatross,

the main point here, and I would like to stress that, is that Dr. Watson's remarks were based on his opinion, not his knowledge. Hence, it was not a "scientific debate". And, again, he did not only said "they were not as intelligent as us".

Therefore he should, as anyone else, a judge, a politician, an economist - and I think he was, but this is speculation - be prepared for the consequences of expressing his very controversial opinion.

If someone said that we were all equal based on "our data", which does not actually show that, it would probably be irrelevant both scientifically and to the public opinion (but I believe a serious institution would take some kind of reprimand action for such lousy remarks). As we would say in Brazil, this person would be "watering wet ground" - meaning his remarks have no substance.

One problem I usually see with highly specialized scientists is that they tend to view to world as an extension of their field of expertise. And I tend to think it is slightly more complicated than that...

He states, among other things, that we treat Africa as equals. Is that the case? (I don't want to digress here, but I am just pointing to the astounding naivety of his comments. Which makes it more reprehensible being James Watson who he is)

PS1 - I have not read the book you mentioned. And I don't have anything against anyone expressing his/her opinion. But people should be intellectually honest about it and do not cover it with "our data". And yes, be prepared for the consequences. It is a wild world...


PS2 - I remembered of a book by Mortimer Adler in which he treated the question of "equals and unequals" on a philosophical basis. But I don't have the reference here.

 
At 5:38 PM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"anti nature camp"...

and they talk about freedom of thought...

 
At 9:54 PM, October 24, 2007, Anonymous Steve B. said...

I stand corrected on the "Europeans score highest"; I should have said "Europeans score relatively high," a weaker statement. Anyway...


There are a lot of different issues coming up here.

1) What did Watson actually say? I don't see the words "less intelligent" anywhere, although he may have meant that. Furthermore, in his apology, I don't see Watson saying anywhere "My conclusion was wrong;" instead, he says "what people think I said is not what I meant, and I'm sorry they misinterpreted me."

2) There are well-documented racial differences in IQ. Do they represent an actual difference in "intelligence", whatever that is, or biases in the tests? I suggest that this question cannot be answered in either direction without making unfounded assumptions such as "there are no racial differences in intelligence."

3) A number of Watson's critics on this seem, as David points out, to be making precisely that unfounded assumption, and therefore concluding that he must be wrong and/or racist. David also suggests, plausibly, that a scientific study that supports that assumption is more likely to be published and cited than a scientific study that disputes that assumption, all else being equal.


Now, why is it impossible to distinguish between real differences in intelligence and test bias?

IQ tests are intended to measure "intelligence". Unfortunately, no two people agree exactly on what that is, so what they really measure is "ability to do well on this particular test."

If several different tests, each intended to measure "intelligence", all correlate strongly together, this gives us some reason to believe that we're measuring something consistent... but is it really a single quantity that really exists in the real world? Or, by naming it "intelligence", have we fallen prey to a fallacy of reification, convincing ourselves that something must exist because it has a name?

(A particularly bad example of this is due to Binet, who if I recall correctly from The Mismeasure of Man said basically "The test is designed to measure a single heritable trait, so there must be one.")

For example, suppose there were "really" two intelligences, which had little or no correlation. If several different tests all happen to measure a fairly-even mix of the two, the tests will all correlate closely with one another, so we could be misled into thinking there is, in the real world, one quantity that can be called "intelligence". The same reasoning would hold if there were "really" three, or four, or twenty different intelligences. To try to avoid this trap, test designers can try to write tests with what they perceive as very different kinds of questions, but there's no way to know for sure that they've succeeded.

To take an absurd example, suppose in reality there's an ability to answer written questions with a prime number of vowels in them, and another ability to answer multiple-choice questions to which the right answer is "D", and by chance, in every existing test, about 40% of the questions have a prime number of vowels and 30% of the questions have right answer "D". Such tests will all correlate well with one another, thus misleading somebody into inventing a single quantity called "intelligence" to represent the correlation, even though it's really a random superposition of two uncorrelated abilities.

 
At 12:28 AM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To take an absurd example, suppose in reality there's an ability to answer written questions with a prime number of vowels in them, and another ability to answer multiple-choice questions to which the right answer is "D", and by chance, in every existing test, about 40% of the questions have a prime number of vowels and 30% of the questions have right answer "D". Such tests will all correlate well with one another, thus misleading somebody into inventing a single quantity called "intelligence" to represent the correlation, even though it's really a random superposition of two uncorrelated abilities."

Correlation DOES imply causation in the limit to infinity. Atleast, that is what is in our nature to assume according to Hume, and i think he is spot on there.

Why dont we doubt the sun will rise every 24 hours? Simply because the two events correlate so strongly. Even if we wouldnt have any understanding of the celestial mechanics involved.

Similarly, if there is a persistant correlation between IQ scores and other factors, we expect this correlation to hold in the future aswell. That is meaningfull. IQ is just asmuch 'only the outcome of an IQ test', as sunrise is 'only a particular configuration of clock hands'

Concepts derive meaning first and foremost from their relation to other concepts, not from any 'deeper' understanding we might pretend to have.

We dont need to understand what IQ 'really is' for it to be meaningfull, any more than prehistoric people needed celestial mechanics to know that sunrise meant to them.

 
At 4:04 AM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

"We dont need to understand what IQ 'really is' for it to be meaningfull, any more than prehistoric people needed celestial mechanics to know that sunrise meant to them."


You are right as long as you want to make the same use of IQ as prehistoric people made of celestial mechanics...

 
At 10:35 AM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You are right as long as you want to make the same use of IQ as prehistoric people made of celestial mechanics..."

The correct comparison if you want to stick with my analogy would be understanding 'IQ' vs understanding 'the sun', which are the phenomena under consideration in both cases.

Deeper understanding of the sun comes with, for instance, celestial mechanics. Deeper understanding of IQ would comes with, among others, detailled knowledge of the brain.

Prehistoric people could make perfect use of the sun just by looking at correlations. They knew hunting was often more successfull with the sun in their backs. They knew staying too long in the sun might get you burnt. They knew a whole lot of usefull things about the sun. All without deeper understanding, but purely by doing crude statistics, by trying to find correlations between their experiences.

With regard to IQ, we are in the same position. We dont really understand it, but nonetheless, the concept derives meaning from the other concepts it is related to.

As for making use of it, i dont know. Personally im foremost interested in the anti-scientific climate.

But if you truely believe that what they are researching is just a concept without practical value, then what are you so worried about?

 
At 11:21 AM, October 25, 2007, Blogger Vadim Iaralov said...

"Correlation DOES imply causation in the limit to infinity."

What kind of asymptotic stats theory are you using?

See,
"Orange Juice and Weather", Richard Roll, American Economic Review, 1984, vol. 74, issue 5, pages 861-80.

Prices for future contracts for concentrated orange juice could forecast weather very well. (in fact, predict the error in the actual weather forecast). But even infinite observations of the orange juice future prices correlating with overnight weather, doesn't imply future traders causing weather changes...
On the other hand, weather alone could not explain most volatility in the prices.

 
At 11:30 AM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

Paolo: I can't imagine anyone getting fired for claiming that racial differences in outcomes were due to discrimination. Now, that's also a claim without enough evidence to demonstrate it, but it's a commonplace of public statements.

In a situation in which the penalty for claiming X is that you lose your job, and the penalty for claiming not-X is that you get to keep your job, it's not too easy to get a read on how many people really think X or not-X. It's like trying to find out someone's religious beliefs in some small town where anyone who's not a Christian will find it impossible to keep a job or buy groceries--there's simply no way of knowing what most people thing, because they can only claim one set of beliefs.

Sometime soon, I'll hear some geneticist or biologist reassure me that we're all equal under the skin, that intelligence and temperament don't vary by race. How can I tell whether he believes that or not?

 
At 1:32 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

By the way, a very nice (yes "dude") article on Nature looking at the two sides of the story and confirming my previous point that Watson's remarks do more damage than good to science

link here

 
At 2:04 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"What kind of asymptotic stats theory are you using?

See,
"Orange Juice and Weather", Richard Roll, American Economic Review, 1984, vol. 74, issue 5, pages 861-80.

Prices for future contracts for concentrated orange juice could forecast weather very well. (in fact, predict the error in the actual weather forecast). But even infinite observations of the orange juice future prices correlating with overnight weather, doesn't imply future traders causing weather changes...
On the other hand, weather alone could not explain most volatility in the prices."

I shouldnt have said causation, thats not what i meant.

Either way, if such a correlation does exist, then that IS meaningfull. Perhaps the causation is purely psycological, but that doesnt make it any less real. There must be SOME mechanism connecting the two variables, no matter how indirect, or in what direction the causation goes. Just because you dont understand it doesnt mean it doesnt exist. The probability that it is just chance simply vanishes if the pattern persists long enough.

 
At 2:13 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

paulo:

The link doesnt seem to be working. Either way, what do you mean by 'doing good for science'?

No, his comments were not scientific, the one about the employers especially. But in the situation that we have where people can go around claiming things such as 'race is only skin deep' completely uncontested, to name just one thing, i very much appreciate people pointing out obvious things such as it being very unlikely that mental abilities evolved completely the same everywhere while so many other things did not.

 
At 3:16 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

I'm sorry.

Try here .

What I like about this article is that they look at both sides soberly, by pointing out that Watson's remarks, at the same time, gives "succour and comfort to racists around the globe" and also might give boost to "those who wish to suppress scientific inquiry".

 
At 5:06 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Mark said...

"To take an absurd example, suppose in reality there's an ability to answer written questions with a prime number of vowels in them, and another ability to answer multiple-choice questions to which the right answer is "D", and by chance, in every existing test, about 40% of the questions have a prime number of vowels and 30% of the questions have right answer "D". Such tests will all correlate well with one another, thus misleading somebody into inventing a single quantity called "intelligence" to represent the correlation, even though it's really a random superposition of two uncorrelated abilities."

It is conceivable that the various factors that comprise g are independent -- in short, that there is no conclusive proof that there is any g in g. It is also conceivable that if I throw a pack of playing cards into the air they will all fall standing on their edges. Conceivable, yes. Likely, not so much.

Incidently, if the proposition of independent correlations were true, it would be easy to make a test that demonstrates no difference in average IQ among the races. The fact that nobody has done so is telling.

 
At 5:27 PM, October 25, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

On genetics:

References to anything showing that race goes beyond a set of _unlinked_ traits.

For IQ to vary _with_ genetic race, genetic race would have to involve traits as a system, not as individual details which vary independantly.

 
At 6:13 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

Paulo:

The article said that the canceled speaking engagements gave comfort to people who might want to suppress scientific inquiry. It wasn't blaming Watson for that.

What happened to Watson was nasty, and it was a warning to others. Very much like what happened to Summers. Some viewpoints, some speculations, some discussions, are simply not permissible. The result is, we blind ourselves to a lot of the world.

This points out a major problem with the think tank kind of model for supporting scholars. Tenure gives established old scientists some cover to say mostly what they want, though they may still suffer some consequences. The less you have tenure, the less you have some unassailable positions from which people are genuinely free to say what they believe, the more social and political pressures and taboos of the day can silence people.

And the result is, we blind ourselves. Some things that may be true, we can't discuss. Some important discussions get warped all out of shape, to avoid saying anything taboo. This is neither about Watson as a person nor about his comments; it's about the incentives that we've set up for being honest or dishonest.

 
At 6:20 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous albatross said...

unnr:

That didn't make a bit of sense to me. The pattern of heart disease is apparently different by race, as are rates of various cancers. Why wouldn't the same argument apply to them as to IQ?

 
At 7:36 PM, October 25, 2007, Anonymous Paulo said...

"The article said that the canceled speaking engagements gave comfort to people who might want to suppress scientific inquiry. It wasn't blaming Watson for that."


That's exactly why I think this article is one of the best descriptions of the damage caused by Watson's remarks.


They [the remarks] gave "succour and comfort to racists around the globe" and also caused a reaction that might stimulate "those who wish to suppress scientific inquiry".

 
At 3:13 PM, October 26, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

Albatross:

There's a few things we could be trying to say re:heart disease:

a) right now, at this moment, heart disease is prevalent in a racially identified community, maybe because of diet, or becasue people with certain visible features get yelled at more often by bosses.

b) Genetic material which is common in a certian community leads to heart disease. This gene is not LINKED to race, it just co-occurs frequently due to historical happenstance. Some people of the race in question have a particular version of it, some don't.

c) Genetic material which has a roll to play in deterimination of race also has a roll to play in liklihood of heart disease.

The last case does not appear to be possible because genes simply don't _have_ a roll to play in race. Race is category which humans construct by looking at a particular set of characteristics. The choosing of which characteristics to look at is arbirtary -- they don't have any bearing on each other. Many of them (such as skin colour) are only partly determined by genetic factors in any case. It's like commenting on the subject of a book by checking to see how many times "of" appears on page 47.

In the case of 2) If heart disease has recently become more or less important in terms of survival/procreation, then the genes which affect it will be selected for independantly of racial features. This is like commenting on the subject of a book by seeing how many times the word "of" is followed by the word "a."

In the first case, we're looking at culture rather than genes.

Have you ever had trouble guessing weather a person is white or black? Philipino or Native American? Chinese or Japanese?
That's because you don't just inherit a race, you inheret a bunch of characteristics which are not linked to each other, so you get a few of each.

Roughly, all other races are a subset of the african population.


(please correct any errors I've made, like I said, I'm not a geneticist, I've just taken one first year anthropology course, and I haven't passed it yet)

-Unnr

 
At 10:33 PM, October 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

a) right now, at this moment, heart disease is prevalent in a racially identified community, maybe because of diet, or becasue people with certain visible features get yelled at more often by bosses.

b) Genetic material which is common in a certian community leads to heart disease. This gene is not LINKED to race, it just co-occurs frequently due to historical happenstance. Some people of the race in question have a particular version of it, some don't.

c) Genetic material which has a roll to play in deterimination of race also has a roll to play in liklihood of heart disease.

The last case does not appear to be possible because genes simply don't _have_ a roll to play in race. Race is category which humans construct by looking at a particular set of characteristics. The choosing of which characteristics to look at is arbirtary -- they don't have any bearing on each other. Many of them (such as skin colour) are only partly determined by genetic factors in any case. It's like commenting on the subject of a book by checking to see how many times "of" appears on page 47.

A) i dont know the specifics of heart disease, but i do know a lot of indicators are strongly related to race. if thats a persistant pattern over different cultures spread all over the planet, cultural factors hardly seem likely.

as for B and C: it boils down to the same thing. race indeed cannot be LINKED to anything in that sense, since it is a fuzzy definition. but just because there is a continuous spectrum of colors, that doesnt mean its meaningless to speak of red and blue either.

To say that specific traits cannot be geneticly linked to race is just too orwelian to be funny. the set of traits that a subgroup of humans is likely to differ in from the average human is precisely the statistical definition of race.

Race may have originated as an anthropological construct: if you do principal component analysis on the genes of a whole bunch of people, what you get is pretty much exactly the classic races as they have been known for all of history.

 
At 2:09 PM, October 27, 2007, Blogger David Friedman said...

Unnr writes:

"For IQ to vary _with_ genetic race, genetic race would have to involve traits as a system, not as individual details which vary independantly."

I'm not sure I understand that. The basic argument is quite simple.

1. A human population is reproductively isolated for a long period of time.

2. It adapts to the local environment in a variety of ways.

3. A few generations after the isolation ends, during which time there is substantial mating with people not from that population as well as much ingroup mating, people whose ancestors were largely from that population can be identified--well although not perfectly--by those adaptations that are easily observable, such as skin color.

4. People whose ancestors were largely from that population will tend to have those heritable traits that were adaptations to that environment.

5. So the possession of an easily observable such trait makes it more likely one has other and less easily observable such traits.

To take the obvious example, the possession of dark skin in the U.S. signals (imperfectly--there has been some immigration from southern India) sub-saharan African ancestry, which implies a much higher than average probability of carrying the sickle cell gene. Both are adaptation to (different features of) the same environment.

Intelligence is in large part heritable and must be costly in some sense relevant to reproductive success, else everyone would be super smart. The exact tradeoff between its benefits and costs depends, among other things, on the environment. So a higher or lower intelligence might be one of those traits.

Hence intelligence might correlate with race, defined by the easily observable traits. Whether it does is then an empirical question.

 
At 6:50 AM, October 28, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

Ug.

Ok, so the problem is that identifiable "race" doesn't actually seem to take a long time to develop. (I think the paper I read on this was using Easter Island as an example)

The second problem is that evolution happens, and sometimes it happens REALLY quickly. If, say, a group of slave owners feel threatened by smart slaves, and kill them off, the population will change drastically in a couple of generations. This can also happen with less human-imposed bottlenecks.

If, say, the slaves are freed and in the next generation, all the girls decide they all want the smartest guys they can find, the incidence of a certain intellegence could reverse itself bloody fast.

Think of paddling a kayak: from a distance, the boat looks like its going in a straight line -- this is the view of human evolution over long periods of time. From up close, the boat is actually fishtailing pretty significantly as the paddles dip. That's what happens when you zoom in on evolution too. Factors can change FAST, and have an impact on a population in as little as one generation.

If you know that IN THE CURRENT GENERATION, there is a co-occurance, then you can encourage people IN THE CURRENT GENERATION to make decisions becasue of it.

There is also a question of selective pressure. The less the pressure the less wiggy the line. So you have to make an argument about the intensity of selective pressures. If these are low, you might be justified in suggesting that the situation is likely to persist for some number of generations (this is the basis of the mollecular clock dating method, which, admittedly, has to be calibrated in fifteen ways from sunday in order to make it even look like it's working, and as far as I can tell most people think it's still pretty silly)

If you're making non-time-limited statements you're shooting yourself in the foot. You're making predictions for the future based on the assumption that the price of tea in china really does affect the intellegence of babies in Tahiti.

As per usual, this is not totally black and white, and like I said at the beginning, I think there is something missing from my understanding of this.

The upshot is that any statement along the lines of "green-eyed people have less smart-genes" should be immediately recognised as totally empty, UNLESS it is followed up with a very complicated set of specifications involving under what circumstances, how long the situation seems likely to persist, etc.

Also, I think that your reasoning in the sickle-cell example is flawed (darkness of skin being pretty variable in people of mixed race), and also, you haven't included a definition of "dark" skin... where you draw the line between "light" and "dark" is going to affect your statistics.

On the other hand, I think the medical useage of this imformation is fairly reasonable... if a person has ancestry in populations with high incidence (as far as I know they don't use a colour chip to determine this), then it's considered worth doing the (relatively cheep) test when there is slighly less indication that anemia is present.

It's not like they refuse to test white guys, and it's not like they test every black guy every six months.

('course I live in Canada and the medical system is a bit different)

 
At 7:24 AM, October 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/30years/Rushton-Jensen30years.pdf

 
At 7:25 AM, October 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

www.udel.edu/educ/gottfredson/30years/Rushton-Jensen30years.pdf

 
At 7:28 AM, October 28, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

See

Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability

by Rushton & Jensen

published by the American Psychological Association 2005

 
At 4:07 PM, October 28, 2007, Blogger Unnr said...

That article _actively_ does not address my comments.

Please re-read with attention to definitions of terms.

-Unnr

 
At 12:27 PM, October 30, 2007, Anonymous Roderick T. Long said...

Here's why I think it's fair to accuse Watson of prejudice.

 
At 1:37 PM, December 09, 2007, Blogger Beastin said...

Not that I want to rehash this debate just now, but you might be interested in the following NY Times article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/
opinion/09nisbett.html

 
At 1:07 PM, December 29, 2007, Blogger Beastin said...

And because I can't leave well enough alone. Here's the first of an interesting series of articles.

http://www.slate.com/id/2178122/
entry/2178123/

 
At 6:46 AM, September 04, 2008, Blogger red said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 

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