Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shoe poisoning.

Biologist James Watson must love the taste of shoe leather, because his foot's apparently spent more time in his mouth than on the ground. When a guy's already talked about
links between skin color and sexual prowess and between a person's weight and their level of ambition
and parents aborting gay babies, what's a little garden variety racism on the side?


Comrade Misfit said...

Shoe poisoning

Oh, I am so going to steal that!

What a great phrase.

phlegmfatale said...

but! but! but!
Noble laureates are infallible and are thus never mistaken about anything, right?

DBA Dude said...

Thanks dor that - had not realised how far the old git's senility had progressed.

Anonymous said...

A commenter on Jerry Pournelles site threw what I thought was an interesting spin on the whole Watson uproar:

"Isn't it curious how some folks accept the idea that the Grand Canyon isolated two groups of squirrels such that they evolved with different characteristics, but cannot accept the idea that isolation of groups of humans could result in inheritable differences?"

Anonymous said...

The Grand Canyon squirrel populations are totally isolated from one another- the fastest route for speciation.

The problem with arguing about heritable differences in human populations isn't that people won't admit it happens- otherwise Tay-Sachs and sickle cell anemia wouldn't be such widely used models that any biology undergrad will probably hear about them in three or four separate classes.

Two huge problems with talking about differences in intelligence between different races:

a)No one has been able to come up with a biologically useful set of definitions for "race"- Americans are used to talking about "black people" and "white people" and "hispanics", but those categories bear no resemblance to genetic differences. African tribal populations have more genetic diversity among them than Asian, European, and native American populations put together. "Hispanics" are mixes of Spanish blood... and the entire diversity of the native American tribal populations south of Colorado or so. Thanks to the one-drop rule, black Americans as a genetic group are composed of any of dozens of African populations, native American, and Caucasian.

b)No one has been able to come up with a testing system for "intelligence" that produces consistent enough results along a consistent enough scale to be useful. The intelligence tests that have been in use weren't designed to do that- they were designed to identify extremes of the scale so that special-needs or exceptional children could be readily identified. They have been co-opted for things like studies of racial IQ differences, but they are and always have been a really lousy tool for it.

I believe in inheritable differences among humans, and among the more genetically distinct human populations, the way I believe in grass. But every single time I've seen someone try to apply the principle to things like this, the very way the questions were being asked and studied revealed the questioner was not curious so much about biology as about using the idea to prove a personal agenda.

Show me a study of, say, Khoisan tribesmen versus native inhabitants of the Isle of Man to demonstrate a racial intelligence difference, using multivariable tests that don't depend on language or cultural knowledge, and I might be interested.

Watson got his Nobel for being the first to publish the *structure* of DNA. His public remarks ever since have shown very clearly that his understanding of the evolutionary processes that change it is minimal at best.

Roberta X said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Roberta X said...

Hear hear! What labrat said is what I would have said were I that clever.

"Intelligence tests" are a crock, a parlor game. Most of the time they measure a whole lot more than just intelligence, usually things that skew the results.

While there are plenty and obvious differnces between various human subgroups, it's not very useful other than in predicting a population's susceptibility to disease or the like, as individual variation makes most predictions useless on an individual level -- and I dunno 'bout everybody else but that's how I interact with people, individually.

Humans are among the least genetically diverse species anyway.

Anonymous said...

My psychology professor, the great Olin Smith, would say at any opportunity that genetic study of the human mind was fruitless, because there was too much random fucking going on.

Anonymous said...

Labrat: IQ tests have been well-proven to be fairly effective at predicting success in school. There is a cluster of underlying mental abilities that often track with each other, and the IQ test definitely measures some of them, but probably mainly the ones that are most useful in school. (Hint: Most of the developers were college professors, what do you think they'd test for?) The correlation between IQ and success in life is lower, but still there. Of course, at least part of that is just that high-IQ people are more likely to finish college, and that gets you a better job in many fields even if you didn't learn anything, so it's rather difficult to tell if whatever it is IQ tests measure is very useful in itself outside of school... One thing that IQ doesn't measure well is drive (as in the opposite of "laziness"), which means that tests like the SAT that also take account of what you have learned in school so far are likely to be more predictive of school and other success than just IQ - unless they are measuring how many dollars your parents poured into "coaches".

But for whatever it's worth, African-Americans do average much higher (more than a standard deviation) on IQ tests than Africans, and "white" Americans average higher (about a standard deviation) than African-Americans. That isn't necessarily a genetic effect; nutrition and the stimulation or lack of stimulation in an infant's environment can probably account for larger differences. But if you really want to argue for African stupidity, throw away the tests and just look at the monsters they allow to govern them...

There's another common line of argument: when you watch an Olympic sport and most of the contestants from all over the world obviously have African ancestry, something's got to be going on besides just African-Americans being more likely to see sports as a route to success. (E.g., that doesn't explain why Hungary, say, would hire a Kenyan to run races for it - unless they do find faster runners in Kenya.) However, this doesn't necessarily imply overall athletic superiority. Remember how Africans are more genetically diverse than the rest of the world? Olympic athletes almost have to to be genetically at the extreme for the most relevant characteristics, besides having further developed those characteristics by exercise, and a more diverse population is going to have more people at the extremes (both good and bad) even if the average is identical.

As always, the second biggest mistake is thinking that group characteristics say anything about individual characteristics. However, the biggest mistake is thinking that different group accomplishments prove discrimination...


Anonymous said...


IQ tests are good predictors of success in school, yes- that is what they were designed to do- but what are they measuring? IQ tests depend to a large extent on reading ability and general cultural knowledge, which don't necessarily have anything to do with a hypothesized general "intelligence". A genuinely stupid kid and a kid who just got off the slowboat from Outer Lumbago will both do badly on an IQ test and need remedial education to catch up with their age group, but the second kid's problem is NOT that he's stupid. If I were to go to Japan right now and sit down and take an IQ test, I would measure as retarded, because I don't speak or read Japanese and even if the test were translated for me, I have very little of the broad cultural knowledge that makes you functionally intelligent in a culture.

And that's just fine: for most of life, your *functional* intelligence might as well be interchangeable with your innate innate intelligence, which is why we measure that to predict success in school. But if you're trying to ask questions about genetic bases for differences in innate intelligence, you need to be very precise- and certain- about what you're actually measuring. A strong IQ test that measured innate intelligence would focus on things like speed of learning, ability to retain novel facts, ability to relate those facts to one another to form new ideas, and ability to solve problems without nudging- not ability to make analogies in English or do algebra.

You also missed my point about Africa having more human genetic diversity on the continent than in the rest of the world combined. There is no "black" or "African" group genetically; there are a great many genetically distinct groups that happen to have dark skin and live in Africa that are so different from each other genetically that comparitively speaking, Asians and Caucasians might as well be considered the same race. You're right in that lots of Africans have been top Olympics competitors- but they all come from the same relatively small genetic groups, the very tall and athletic Watusi and Maasai, and their closest relatives. You don't see a lot of Bantu or Kikyu Olympians. A Khoisan would be crushed in just about any event save ping-pong.

So, if there is no genetic "black" or "African" group, and IQ tests don't measure innate intelligence? Then the most logical place to look is cultural differences in how children are raised and educated, not artificial "race" constructs that have little to do with biology.

Anonymous said...

It is not racist to state a proven fact. Blacks score 10-20 points lower than whites on IQ tests.

Anonymous said...

"But if you really want to argue for African stupidity, throw away the tests and just look at the monsters they allow to govern them..."


Never mind the list, I'm done.

You guys are not speaking the code here. Don't you understand? The old argument was "large genitals=low IQ;" we don't live in that world any more, it's now "high IQ=small genitals," so I am arguing strongly for the IQ potential of Africans. If challenged, I will whip out my IQ and lay it on the bar.

Should have misspelled a word here, or left a fragment dangling, just to prove what a stud I am.

montanabob said...

I was at CSHL as a graduate student. Some of the things that Jim said/promoted while I was there were amazing. It is truly incredible what people that many consider to be "intelligent" will say with impunity. The scary part is that he probably really believes what he had to say. That doesn't make it right, just sad sad sad. I am glad to see that Dr. Stillman and the board of trustees did react very quickly to distance themselves from him. Of course, they will let him back into the fold. No one else in the history of CSHL has been able to get donors to cough up the bucks like he has. And at the end of the day, they do good research there.