Another Moral Panic about Race: James Watson Again Excoriated for His Belief in a Genetic Basis for Race Differences in IQ

Editor’s note: I have posted two articles on the controversies surrounding Nicholas Wade and James Watson, both from 2014. Watson is in the news once again because he reaffirmed his belief in the genetic basis of Black-White IQ differences, resulting (of course) in a scathing article in the New York Times by one Amy Harmon. The article notes that despite apologizing “publicly” and “unreservedly,” Watson was forced to retire from his research position, resulting in a drastic loss of income. Since then, he “has been largely absent from the public eye. His speaking invitations evaporated. In 2014, he became the first living Nobelist to sell his medal, citing a depleted income from having been designated a “nonperson.’’

The latest NYTimes moral panic about Watson includes a comment that Watson’s views have been “supported” by “white supremacists,” with links to someone whose anonymous Twitter handle is Neo (with a grand total of 820 followers — Ms Harmon was clearly at great pains to find such a person ) and to videoblogger Stephan Molyneux, respectively. Here’s a recent tweet by Molyneux that reflects a race realist view on IQ but clearly denies that these differences have anything to do with “White supremacy.” Just the opposite. 

The problem with ruling out a genetic basis for race differences is that, as reflected in Molyneux’s tweet, the result is to invoke environmental explanations of Black and Latino academic failure, and of course this leads the hegemonic academic and media left to blame White “racism” for any failure of Blacks or Latinos — despite a complete lack of scientific evidence and while ignoring the success of some non-White minorities in historically White societies. If Whites are racist, surely they would have prevented upward mobility by Jews and East Asians. As noted below in a section on J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen, environmental explanations have a long history of failure to explain the difference.

Once again, we see the power of the left to censor inconvenient truths. James Watson must remain a non-person, his reputation forever destroyed:

Eric Lander, the director of the Broad Institute of M.I.T. and Harvard, elicited an outcry last spring with a toast he made to Dr. Watson’s involvement in the early days of the Human Genome Project. Dr. Lander quickly apologized.

“I reject his views as despicable,” Dr. Lander wrote to Broad scientists. “They have no place in science, which must welcome everyone. I was wrong to toast, and I’m sorry.’’

Science must welcome everyone? There is zero evidence that academic science has excluded people because of their race. On the other hand, Asians, especially East Asians, are ubiquitous in research in the hard sciences. No one is being un-welcomed because of their race. Blacks who can perform at the level needed to be a research scientist (probably IQ>140) would be welcomed with open arms.  

Here I post two previous comments, both dealing with the controversy surrounding James Watson. However, because Nicolas Wade’s book A Troublesome Inheritance came out around the same time as the Watson controversy, they also deal with some of the controversy surrounding Wade.  

Political correctness in reviews of Nicholas Wade’s “A Troublesome Inheritance”

There are a wide range of reviews of Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance, but some difficult implications are downplayed.  

1. With few exceptions (e.g., Jared Taylor, “Nicholas Wade takes on the regime” and Bo and Ben Winegard, “Darwin’s dual with Descartes“), a common tactic is to acknowledge that race exists but then claim that evidence for a genetic basis for race differences is completely speculative. Despite the central importance of race differences, Wade deemphasizes IQ research where most of the research has centered.

A good example of this tendency is evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne who agrees with Wade that races do exist and claims that “except for politically motivated denialists,” we have known that for a long time. (Actually, the idea that race is real is big news to pretty much the entire faculty in the social sciences and the humanities these days, but of course it is not at all far-fetched to label them “politically motivated denialists.”)

So, if for no other  reason, Wade’s book is most welcome. However the next move is to claim that there is absolutely no evidence for genetic differences between races. Coyne:

Wade’s main thesis, and where the book goes wrong, is to insist that differences between human societies, including differences that arose in the last few centuries, are based on genetic differences—produced by natural selection— in the behavior of individuals within those societies.  In other words, societal differences largely reflect their differential evolution.

For this Wade offers virtually no evidence, because there is none. We know virtually nothing about the genetic differences (if there are any) in cognition and behavior between human populations.

This is simply false.   J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen list ten categories of evidence based on their previous reviews of the literature:

The worldwide distribution of test scores; the g factor of mental ability; heritability differences; brain size differences; trans-racial adoption studies; racial admixture studies; regression-to-the-mean effects; related life-history traits; human origins research; and the poverty of predictions from culture-only explanations. The preponderance of evidence demonstrates that in intelligence, brain size, and other life-history variables, East Asians average a higher IQ and larger brain than Europeans who average a higher IQ and larger brain than Africans [a recent study indicates average African IQ of 75]. Further, these group differences are 50–80% heritable. These are facts, not opinions and science must be governed by data. There is no place for the ‘‘moralistic fallacy’’ that reality must conform to our social, political, or ethical desires.  (“James Watson’s most inconvenient truth: Race realism and the moralistic fallacy“)

These data cannot be wished away any more than one can wish away the data showing the existence of race.

2. Again with few exceptions (James ThompsonJohn Derbyshire) Wade and others have tried their best to avoid any connotation of racial superiority. Charles Murray’s review:

As the story is untangled, it will also become obvious how inappropriate it is to talk in terms of the “inferiority” or “superiority” of groups. Consider, for example, the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. What are the ideal points on these continua? They will differ depending on whether you’re looking for the paragon of, say, a parent or an entrepreneur. And the Big Five only begin to tap the dozens of ways in which human traits express themselves. Individual human beings are complicated bundles of talents, proclivities, strengths and flaws that interact to produce unexpected and even internally contradictory results. The statistical tendencies (and they will be only tendencies) that differentiate groups of humans will be just as impossible to add up as the qualities of an individual. Vive les différences.

I agree that people are suited for different niches and that there is no such thing as an ideal personality. The problem is that, as Murray is well aware, IQ and conscientiousness (impulse control) are very important in contemporary societies because information processing and impulse control are the key to upward mobility and, in the aggregate, reasonably high average levels are essential to running a civilized society. We can all agree that West Africans are the world’s best sprinters and East Africans are the world’s best long distance runners, but those traits are not important for adjusting to the contemporary urbanized world.

For all practical purposes, some biological clusters are superior to others when it comes to navigating contemporary highly technological, information-based societies. This has grave moral implications because some of these clusters are at a very large disadvantage in such societies, leading to pleas for group-based entitlements (quotas and affirmative action), resentments on all sides (e.g., concerns by Asians that race-based affirmative action will lead to a decline in Asian enrollments at the University of California), negative stereotyping, calls for reparation, etc.

It follows from this that if indeed Rushton, Jensen, et al. are correct that important race differences in behavior have an important genetic component, it is the height of folly to continue importing millions of low-IQ people into Western societies if for no other reason than its effect on the long-term social conflict and even the viability of those societies.

From the beginning, race denial has been central to arguments for overturning the ethnic status quo created by the 1924 immigration law. If there is no such thing as race and if there are no biologically based race differences, then there can be no objection to immigration of all peoples. As Harvard historian Oscar Handlin wrote in a 1952 Commentary article, “all men, being brothers, are equally capable of being Americans” (here, p. 285). Or, as Senator Jacob Javits argued in a speech during the debate over the 1965 immigration law: “both the dictates of our consciences as well as the precepts of sociologists tell us that immigration, as it exists in the national origins quota system, is wrong and without any basis in reason or fact for we know better than to say that one man is better than another because of the color of his skin” (Ibid., 254).

3. Lots of reviews mention Wade’s treatment of the main villains in the race denial movement—Franz Boas, Ashley Montagu, Richard Lewontin, Stephen J. Gould, Steven Rose, Leon Kamin, et al. It is not at all uncommon to claim that they were politically motivated. But with the exception of Cooper Sterling’s excellent review, none has made the slightest hint that the race denial movement would not have happened without the intellectual ethnic activism of the Jewish left — which got its first taste of power beyond the academic world in the 1960s and became dominant by the 1970s.

Indeed, I can’t think of any prominent race denial figures who are not Jewish. The backbone of the race denial movement was a specific radical Jewish subculture that had become entirely within the mainstream of the American Jewish community by the early twentieth century—the subject of Chapters 2 and 3 of The Culture of Critique (see also here). There is excellent evidence for their strong Jewish identifications, their concern with specific Jewish issues such as anti-Semitism, and for their hostility and sense of moral and intellectual superiority toward the traditional people and culture of America. Jonathan Marks is a contemporary example of this long and dishonorable tradition. The rise of the left to elite status in American society, beginning with with universities, is key to understanding the race denial movement and the stifling political correctness that is all around us today.

4. Most importantly, reviewers and Wade himself ignore the point that the race denial movement has been a weapon against Whites which is a major contributing factor in their displacement not only in the United States and other European-derived societies, but even in Europe.

This has huge evolutionary implications. It is often forgotten that the title of the first five editions of Darwin’s masterpiece was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. A bedrock aspect of evolutionary theory has always been competition between biological clusters. For example, a mutation for lactose tolerance has been proposed as key to the Indo-European expansion, leading to selection favoring the entire complement of genes in the Indo-European cluster, ultimately at the expense of other peoples.

Wade notes that  “ideas about race are dangerous when linked to political agendas. It puts responsibility on scientists to test rigorously the scientific ideas that are placed before the public” (p. 37).

Dangerous indeed. But this is always glossed to mean that it might be “dangerous” for Whites to assert their interests — that the danger is to non-Whites whose interests might be compromised by Whites.

The reality is that the race denial movement has always been a politically and ethnically motivated ideology. And it is dangerous indeed because it is one of the most powerful weapons ever devised against the ethnic genetic interests of Whites. The result has been that the biological clusters of Europeans have been dwindling as a percentage of the population not only in the world as a whole, but in Europe and European-derived societies in North America, Australia, and New Zealand. In Darwinian terms, this is natural selection.

The race denial movement is completely analogous to the mutation for lactose tolerance. However, rather than a genetic mutation, it is a cultural mutation (meme) that has facilitated the expansion of a wide range of biological clusters at the expense of European populations. If European populations had a strong sense that they are indeed a biological clustering with an interest in maintaining themselves (Frank Salter’s On Genetic Interests presents the technical argument), they would resist the current invasions and place controls on corporations and individuals that derive economic benefits from immigration. Societies motivated to maintain their ethnic integrity (contemporary Israel, the U.S. until 1965) are able to control such interests. But, as it is, the ethnic interests of Whites are unmentionable in polite discourse.

In former times, human evolution took place on the battlefield and in making discoveries or simply carrying mutations that allowed human groups to expand into new areas. Now a critical arena is conflict of interests over the construction of culture—such as creating and disseminating cultural variants like race denial that facilitate population movements favoring some populations at the expense of others.

Nicholas Wade has indeed reopened a huge can of worms with A Troublesome Inheritance—so huge that it is to be entirely expected that the powers that be will make every effort to contain its implications. In this regard, it’s interesting that The Bell Curve has had little, if any, influence on public policy 20 years after its publication.  A similar fate likely awaits A Troublesome Inheritance. 

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