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Thoughtcrime against the scientific consensus

Science Museum cancels talk by Watson after 'racist' comments - Independent Online Edition > Science & Tech

A speaking tour by the DNA pioneer James Watson was thrown into chaos last night when one of Britain's most high-profile scientific institutions announced it was cancelling a planned sell-out appearance.

The Science Museum in London said "...the Science Museum does not shy away from debating controversial topics.

"However, the Science Museum feels that Nobel Prize winner James Watson's recent comments have gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are as a result cancelling his talk at the museum."

Dr Watson's comments in The Sunday Times have overshadowed the visit and caused an outcry from across the worlds of science, politics and the anti-racism lobby. He said he was "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 ". The new Human Rights and Equality Commission, which has the power to investigate alleged infringements of race laws, has said it is studying Dr Watson's comments "in full".

I know no more of Dr Watson's claims than I read above, but there is test data to support his theory and the whole study of race and intelligence is a valid scientific field, even if it attracts the nutjobs to the fringes of it. Dr Watson's remarks don't seem to be calling for violence or racist acts, just "unacceptable".

This intolerance of thoughtcrime against the "consensus", and remember we are talking the musings of a notable scientist not a lonely blogger, reminds us of the fragility of freedom of expression.

As Junkfood Science tells us:

A thought piece appeared in the Financial Times examining what is science and why it is so critical for us to distinguish it from scientific consensus. Author John Kay writes:

Science is the pursuit of the truth, not consensus

...Consensus is a political concept, not a scientific one. Consensus finds a way through conflicting opinions and interests. Consensus is achieved when the outcome of discussion leaves everyone feeling they have been given enough of what they want. The processes of proper science could hardly be more different. The accomplished politician is a negotiator, a conciliator, finding agreement where none seemed to exist. The accomplished scientist is an original, an extremist, disrupting established patterns of thought. Good science involves perpetual, open debate, in which every objection is aired and dissents are sharpened and clarified, not smoothed over.

And how many of our leaders would like to see the same intolerance shown to "climate change deniers?" or "healthy food doubters"?


James Watson's views are not the result of any scientific analysis by him (it is completely outside his area of competence) but are simply his personal views bolstered by the same kind of 'evidence' you quote from Richard Lynn. The Wikipedia entry you cite 'Race and intelligence (test data)' is highly suspect and even Wikipedia, not renowned for its robustness in such matters, warns that: 'The neutrality and factual accuracy of this article are disputed.' That's putting it mildly. Lynn is an extremely controversial figure who's opinions have been widely challenged by others in the field.

Should Watson be allowed to speak? Of course. But not because he's a scientist and Nobel laureate but because free speech is important. His Nobel award is as irrelevant to his views on race as the two Nobel awards Linus Pauling received were to his views on vitamin C and the common cold. Junk science is junk science, even when it comes from people like Pauling, Watson or even (as it did in the end) from the great Newton himself.

"The Science Museum in London said "...the Science Museum does not shy away from debating controversial topics."

Can we take them to the Advertising Standards Authority now for this blatant lie...?

"Should Watson be allowed to speak? Of course."

Exactly! If people dispute his claims, as you do above, why not let the debate go ahead?

As Margaret Thatcher famously observed (“The Downing Street Years”, p. 167): “Consensus is the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot (otherwise) get agreement on the way ahead”
"There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact." Mark Twain, Life on theMississippi

Reminds me of the debate between Bishop Samuel Wiberforce and Thomas Huxley. Huxley was a friend of Darwin's and believed men were descended from apes. Wilberforce asked him whether it was through his grandfather or grandmother that he claimed descent from a monkey.

I thought freedom of speech was about objecting to other people's views but being willing to defend to the death their right to express them. Not nowadays, it seems.

People may say anything they like, but that doesn't mean I must let them into my house to say it

Lynn is an extremely controversial figure who's opinions have been widely challenged by others in the field.

Anybody that looks into this stuff with any sort of competence and thoroughness can see that Lynn's critics have never leveraged any sort of damaging critique.


Watson is by no means an outlier among scientists and scholars in his belief that people of African descent average lower native intelligence.

A 1987 scientific poll published in the American Psychologist of over 1200 relevant scholars (sociologists, psychologists, and geneticists) found that 46% - a plurality of those polled - believed the evidence pointed to genetics playing a role in observed racial intelligence differences, compared to only 15% who thought genetics did not play a role.


And this poll was conducted before the 1990s which introduced novel cross-cultural, anatomical, and transracial adoption data. A 20 year replication of this poll is slated for sometime in the next year and will likely skew even further to the genetic position.

Watson, one of the most esteemed living biologists, was taking his statements from the science journals, not just parroting empty, discredited prejudices. His treatment has been unfair and reactionary.

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