One of the most famous scientists in recent history is James Watson. Watson along with Francis Crick discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, and they received a Nobel Prize for their work. Even though he is 90 years old, Watson has been highly sought after as a speaker. James Watson’s racial remarks have changed things.
In early January of 2019, Watson was interviewed in a PBS documentary titled “American Masters: Decoding Genetics.” In that interview, he said that “genes are responsible for inferior intelligence among blacks.” There are so many problems with this claim that it is hard to know where to start. There are valuable lessons to be learned as well.
The claim that blacks have inferior intelligence is a very ignorant statement. I have a degree in psychometry which is the study of tests and how they are constructed and used. I.Q. tests are loaded with cultural bias, and there are many different types of I.Q. In my early days working under David Segal at Indiana University, I studied the Stanford-Benet I.Q. test and the Otis I.Q. test. As a personal demonstration of the problems with I.Q., my foster son Tim would consistently score 40-50 on the Stanford-Benet test, and yet he would score 90-100 on the Otis. The Otis was a test based on verbal skills. Because we read to Tim regularly during his childhood years, he had average verbal skills. The Stanford-Benet was not verbal but was based on reasoning. Tim was and is mentally challenged in those areas.
Many blacks do score lower on I.Q. tests that were written by upper-class whites in New England. On an I.Q. test written by a black author raised in a profoundly racist geographic area, blacks have better scores than whites. Unbiased testing does not support Watson’s assumption that blacks have inferior intelligence.
Another issue is that there are different kinds of intelligence. Koko, the gorilla trained by Penny Patterson, could use the sign language of the deaf. His I.Q. score was in the 90s, close to normal human values, on a test that measured literary capability. On a test that measured scientific reasoning, the scores were far lower. That test measured a different kind of intelligence.
Because of James Watson’s racial remarks, the laboratory he once led stripped him of honorary titles. The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory immediately printed a statement saying Watson’s comments were “reprehensible and completely without a scientific basis and were a misuse of science to justify prejudice.”
The Bible describes humans as created in the image of God, and condemns all attempts to separate humans on any criteria. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Because a man is an expert in one field of study does not mean his opinions should be held superior to others. Watson is an expert on DNA. He is not an expert on racial origins or how our understanding of the function of DNA impacts areas as nebulous as intelligence. James Watson’s racial remarks make that clear.
–John N. Clayton © 2019