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James Watson says some controversial things

October 2007

James Watson says some controversial things:

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” …

This quote does not seem entirely representative, but it's what everyone else is quoting, so I'm inclined to share my opinion.

Watson does goes on to say some (to my mind) obviously racist things, but I don't think that the extract above is necessarily wrong. IQ tests are inherently biased to a certain form of thinking; they favour such a narrow niche that being white, male and middle-aged gives one a pretty solid advantage, statistically speaking. The important thing here is that there are different types or forms of intelligence, and IQ measures only one such shape.

I think (as alluded to before) that half of Africa's problems stem from this expectation that they can act like civilised white men if we just give them a chance. I don't see this happening – not because they are inferior in any way, but because we are not all the same. The world would be a far better place if we stopped pretending that ours was the one superior form of ‘civilisation.'

Nato commented:

Are blacks and whites really that (genetically) different? I had thought that the studies showing a difference in IQ between races generally were only around 1 IQ point. So I'd say that is as far as you can go with genetics in larger populations. The rest is up to culture, upbringing, et al., which are flexible.

So I'm thinking it's all about culture. The ultimate goal would be to move inferior cultures towards superior cultures. And that probably sounds imperialist, but realize that I'd put western culture in the inferior culture basket, and consider all existing cultures in need of betterment. Also bear in mind I don't think black culture and white culture should ultimately end up the same culture, but they should both be moving towards better cultures, which may or may not be the same.

But basically I'd agree with you :)

Ross commented:

You should check out Matt Nippert's article "Eureka!" in the Listener from a couple of weeks ago where he interviews Prof. James Flynn. To summarize: It's been shown that on average we score higher on IQ tests today than we did 100 years ago. Flynn argues that this is not necessarily because we are "smarter" now than we were back then, but because toady we think so much more abstractly, as opposed to practically. And the IQ tests are pitched towards an abstract Aristotelian way of thinking.

If these types of changes in average IQ can take place over 100 years within a single culture then we should expect significant differences when comparing Western Man's IQ to African Man's IQ.

I personally have no problem with saying that one culture is "better" than another culture. Some people see this as racist but I'd have to disagree. For example, consider Maori culture and western culture in New Zealand. A couple of hundred years ago cannibalism was a part of Maori culture - clearly this was wrong, and thanks to the early missionaries it's not a part of New Zealand life today. In a similar manner, I think mainstream New Zealand has learnt a lot in the past twenty years about respect for the environment from the re-emergence of Tangatewhenua.

In short, cultures can change and should change for the better.