Watson’s Remarks Unacceptable
In his recent letter (“On Intellectual Imprisonment,” Nov. 2, 2007), Ali S. Wyne ’08 argued that James Watson’s resignation from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory signaled the triumph of “political correctness” over fruitful discourse in America. However, Watson’s comments fall far from just socially-unacceptable intellectual curiosity. They are blatantly racist.
In an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine, Watson remarked that he is “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” since “all our social policies are based on the fact that that their intelligence is the same as ours … .” Watson, in his benevolence, hopes all ethnicities are equal but, alas, he continued, “people who have dealt with black employees find this is not true.”
Wyne presumes that the political correctness that forbids mention of the capability-race connection hails from some manufactured social norm. While there may be some truth in this, he fails to frame the issue in its modern reality. We actually have more than just our liberal guts to argue for racial equality: there has already been substantial scientific discussion and study that has convincingly rebuked the African-inferiority hypothesis. Stephen Gould, renowned biologist and evolutionary theorist, for example, considered racial equality a “contingent fact of history … equality is not true by definition. It just worked out that way.” He points to the genetic consistency within interbreeding species, racial convergences lacking geographic proximity, and the fact that genetic variation is much greater within racial groups than between them. Watson himself admitted in his subsequent apologies that there is “no scientific basis” for his comments.
This is not to say that existing credible study should discourage further investigation, but questions into racial differences such as Watson’s must be framed for what they most usually are — not objective analysis into racial discrepancies, but grasps for some modern justification to European domination. Exactly why Watson finds “black employees” less capable than their white counterparts will never be a question settled only in a laboratory; doing so divorces racial inequality from the profound social and historical injustices that have led us to ask these questions in the first place and, worse, absolves those responsible.
I certainly appreciate Wyne’s nod to the constraints within American discourse, but Watson’s thoughtless comments are hardly a fitting example. I wonder if Wyne would argue that the taboo against questioning the Holocaust is similarly “intellectual imprisonment?”
He is correct that “political correctness” has unfortunately locked away many fruitful discussions, but some topics rightfully deserve to be cast aside if not handled responsibly.