Friday, October 19, 2007

Sometimes a Mea Culpa amounts to empty words

Jim Watson, Nobel laureate, recently made some racist remarks:

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson's remarks " in full". Dr Watson told The Sunday Times that 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". He said there was a natural desire that all human beings should be equal but "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true".

Now he issues something of a mea culpa, although given some statements he's made in the past (including apparently in his latest book), it somehow rings hollow.

Watson is hardly the first European or American intellectual to make such statements. Rather he is merely the latest prominent intellectual in a long line of learned men to either write or speak along such lines when discussing the concept of race and intelligence. Following is a very brief sampler from the Enlightenment era through the late 19th century:

Voltaire (1694-1778) "Essai sur les moeurs" On the difference in the measure of intelligence:

"Their round eyes, their flat nose, their lips which are always thick, their differently shaped ears, the wool on their head, the measure even of their intelligence establishes between them and other species of men prodigious differences.

"If their understanding is not of a different nature from ours, it is at least greatly inferior. They are not capable of any great application or association of ideas, and seem formed neither in the advantages nor the abuses of our philosophy."

View on monogenism?

"It is a serious question among them whether [the Africans] are descended from monkeys or whether the monkeys come from them. Our wise men have said that man was created in the image of God. Now here is a lovely image of the Divine Maker: a flat and black nose with little or hardly any intelligence. A time will doubtless come when these animals will know how to cultivate the land well, beautify their houses and gardens, and know the paths of the stars: one needs time for everything." ["Lettres d' Annabed", p 462]

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German philosopher, quote as saying:
"The Negroes of Africa have received from nature no intelligence that rises above the foolish. The difference between the two races is thus a substantial one: it appears to be just as great in respect to the faculties of the mind as in color."

"The Negroes of Africa have received from nature no intelligence that rises above the foolish. Hume invites anyone to quote a single example of a Negro who has exhibited talents. He asserts that among the hundred thousands of blacks who have been seduced away from their own countries, although very many of them have been set free, yet not a single one has ever been found that has performed anything great whether in art or science or in any other laudable subject; but among the whites, people constantly rise up from the lowest rabble and acquire esteem through their superior gifts." ["Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime."]

Peter "Petrus" Campier (1722-1789) -- a Dutch painter was one of the first to suggest that skull measurements could illuminate the natural relationship among apes, Negroes, and Europeans; for him, skulls revealed natural relations between humans, not cultural artifice. Campier sorted apes and humans by his newly devised linea facialis ("facial line"). Having invented an elaborate instrument for this purpose, he took numerous measurements of skulls in order to determine the angle of "prognathism," or forward jutting of the jaw. He set as the ideal an angle of one hundred degrees, a facial angle acknowledged not to exist in reality but often used to portray gods and goddesses in Greek statuary.

"If I make the facial line lean forward, I have an antique head; if backward, the head of a Negro. If I still more incline it, I have the head of an ape; and if more still, that of a dog, and then that of an idiot..."

This notion of the (construed) similarity of African and beast fueled "polygenist" theories. The prognathous (protruding) jaw became a sign of lower development and of a closer relationship to primitive man.

Concerning his skull collection, Campier writes:

"It is amusing to contemplate an arrangement of these [skulls], placed in a regular succession: apes, orangs, negroes, the skull of an Hottentot, Madagascar, Celebese, Chinese, Moguller, Calmuck, and divers Europeans. It was in this manner that I arranged them upon a shelf in my cabinet."

With his facial angle Campier developed the central visual icon of all subsequent racism: a hierarchy of skulls passing progressively from lowliest ape and Negro to loftiest Greek.["Petrus Campier On the Origin and Color of Blacks"]

Galton: As a cousin of Charles Darwin, Galton had published several articles and a book, "Hereditary Genius", which argued that human traits, and particularly great ability, can be inherited from previous generations. Galton believed that black people were entirely inferior to the white races and that Jews were capable only of "parasitism" upon the civilized nations.

"....the average standard of the Negro race is two grades below our own.... [the Lowland Scot and the English North-countryman is] decidedly a fraction of a grade superior of the ordinary English. [The Greeks of c. 500B.C. were] very nearly two grades higher than our own, that is about as much as our race is superior to the African negro." [The comparative worth of different races', Hereditary Genius]

One of the South African tribes he studied was the Damaras, of whom he wrote,

"These savages court slavery....You engage one of them as a servant, and you find that he considers himself as your property, so that you become the owner of a slave. They have no independence about them, generally speaking, but follow a master as a spaniel would." ["Tropical South Africa"]

It was not until 1883 that Galton coined the term "eugenics," and it was 1904 before he formulated his classic definition of eugenics as "the study of agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations, either physically or mentally." He also stated:

"I do not see why any insolence of caste should prevent the gifted class, when they had the power, from treating their compatriots with all kindness, so long as they maintained celibacy. But if these continued to procreate children inferior in moral, intellectual and physical qualities, it is easy to believe the time may come when such persons would be considered as enemies to the State, and to have forfeited all claims to kindness." [Fraser's Magazine 7 (1873), quoted in Aristotle to Zoos, Peter and Jean Medawar, 1983 p. 87]
Such was the Zeitgeist that gave rise to the eugenics movement. Eugenics was defined as "the study of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally" (cited in Guthrie's Even the Rat Was White, 2004). The intellectual roots of Galton's eugenics goes back arguably to Plato's Republic. Galton eventually went on to establish the Eugenics Society of Great Britain in the early 1900s and shortly thereafter began publishing a journal called the Eugenics Review. Around the same time the American Eugenics Society was founded. A number of these eugenics advocates gravitated toward the early IQ tests - which were used and abused to support their thesis that those of Western European stock were superior to those of other races. By arguing that individuals of African descent (as well as those of American Indian and Mexican-American descent) were intellectually inferior, they could advocate various restrictive laws regarding marriage between races, as well as the legalization of involuntary sterilization of those deemed "unfit."

The eugenics movement was largely discredited over time, namely due to the shoddiness of much of the research purported to support its thesis, as well as legitimate questions regarding the definition and measurement of intelligence. On the former, it became quite apparent that individuals who didn't share the same educational and socioeconomic advantages and experiences of a predominantly white upper class and upper middle class would be at a disadvantage from the get-go. Also, it turns out, as Guthrie (2004) points out, that cultural factors could influence test results - for example kids from the Dakota tribe considered it impolite to answer questions in front of others who might not know the answer. The question of what actually composes intelligence is also rather thorny - Howard Gardner has perhaps come as close as anyone to developing a comprehensive theory of multiple intelligences; and his theory goes to underscore the limitations of standard IQ tests (which typically measure spacial and verbal ability and little else; see also research on intelligence by Robert Sternberg).

Virtually all eugenicists supported compulsory sterilization for the "unfit"; some supported castration. Indeed, compulsory sterilization laws became commonplace in the US during the first couple decades of the 20th century. The last prominent group to promote and practice eugenics was the Nazi regime in Germany. Their reign of genocidal terror is well-documented. It should be mentioned that US eugenicists during the 1930s looked at the Nazi approach to eugenics with a mixture of admiration and envy.

Eugenics, though discredited after the mid-20th century (after the Nazis took the movement to its logical conclusion) has remained latent, and still has currency in some circles:
Nearly all the research that Murray and Herrnstein relied on for their central claims about race and IQ was funded by the Pioneer Fund, described by the London Sunday Telegraph (3/12/89) as a "neo-Nazi organization closely integrated with the far right in American politics." The fund's mission is to promote eugenics, a philosophy that maintains that "genetically unfit" individuals or races are a threat to society.

The Pioneer Fund was set up in 1937 by Wickliffe Draper, a millionaire who advocated sending blacks back to Africa. The foundation's charter set forth the group's missions as "racial betterment" and aid for people "deemed to be descended primarily from white persons who settled in the original 13 states prior to the adoption of the Constitution of the United States." (In 1985, after Pioneer Fund grant recipients began receiving political heat, the charter was slightly amended to play down the race angle--GQ, 11/94.)

The fund's first president, Harry Laughlin, was an influential advocate of sterilization for those he considered genetically unfit. In successfully advocating laws that would restrict immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, Laughlin testified before Congress that 83 percent of Jewish immigrants were innately feeble-minded (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). Another founder, Frederick Osborn, described Nazi Germany's sterilization law as "a most exciting experiment" (Discovery Journal, 7/9/94).

The fund's current president, Harry Weyher, denounces the Supreme Court decision that desegregated schools, saying, "All Brown did was wreck the school system" (GQ, 11/94). The fund's treasurer, John Trevor, formerly served as treasurer for the crypto-fascist Coalition of Patriotic Societies, when it called in 1962 for the release of Nazi war criminals and praised South Africa's "well-reasoned racial policies" (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94).

One of the Pioneer Fund's largest current grantees is Roger Pearson, an activist and publisher who has been associated with international fascist currents. Pearson has written: "If a nation with a more advanced, more specialized or in any way superior set of genes mingles with, instead of exterminating, an inferior tribe, then it commits racial suicide" (Russ Bellant, Old Nazis, the New Right and the Republican Party).

[snip]

These are the people that financed nearly all The Bell Curve's "data" on the connection between race and intelligence. (Murray and Herrnstein themselves have not been funded, although Weyher says of Herrnstein, "We'd have funded him at the drop of a hat, but he never asked"--GQ, 11/94.)

Take the infamous Chapter 13, which Murray has often claimed is the only chapter that deals with race (far from it--there are at least four chapters focused entirely on race, and the whole book is organized around the concept).

Murray and Herrnstein's claims about the higher IQs of Asians--widely cited in the media as fact--are almost entirely cited to Richard Lynn, a professor of psychology at the University of Ulster.

In the book's acknowledgements, Murray and Herrnstein declare they "benefitted especially from the advice" of Lynn and five other people.

Lynn has received at least $325,000 from the Pioneer Fund (Rolling Stone, 10/20/94). He frequently publishes in eugenicist journals like Mankind Quarterly--published by Roger Pearson and co-edited by Lynn himself--and Personality and Individual Differences, edited by Pioneer grantee Hans Eysenck. Among Lynn's writings cited in The Bell Curve are "The Intelligence of the Mongoloids" and "Positive Correlations Between Head Size and IQ."

[snip]

Media reports also treated as fact Murray and Herrnstein's claim that black IQs are 15 points lower than whites. "For as long as Americans have been IQ-tested, blacks have trailed whites by that 15-point margin," ABC's Dave Marash reported for Nightline (10/21/94). "Murray sees in the consistency of these gaps proof that intervening to raise low IQs just doesn't work."

But The Bell Curve cites as its primary sources for this assertion R. Travis Osborne, Frank C.J. McGurk and Audrey Shuey--all recipients of Pioneer grants. Osborne, who has received almost $400,000 from Pioneer, used his "research" into black genetic inferiority to argue for the restoration of school segregation (Newsday, 11/9/94).

And, in fact, even the data collected by these racists does not show a consistent 15-point gap. The studies they present show a wide range of results, ranging from no black/white IQ disparity at all to the absurd finding that most African-Americans are severely retarded.

As for the "consistency of the gaps," even The Bell Curve acknowledges that more recent tests have shown a narrower black/white difference, ranging from seven to 10 points. SAT tests have shown a similar convergence. But Murray and Herrnstein warn that "at some point convergence may be expected to stop, and the gap could even begin to widen again"--because "black fertility is loaded more heavily than white fertility toward low-IQ segments of the population." In other words, the bad genes will triumph, no matter what the evidence says.

That sort of circular argument abounds in The Bell Curve.

[snip]

Another person whose advice Murray and Herrnstein "benefitted especially from"--and who shows up constantly in their footnotes--is Arthur Jensen, whose very similar claims about blacks having innately lower IQs were widely discredited in the 1970s. The Pioneer Fund has given more than $1 million to this "giant in the profession," as Pioneer chief Weyher describes him (GQ, 11/94). And it's easy to see why: "Eugenics isn't a crime," Jensen has said (Newsday, 11/9/94). "Which is worse, to deprive someone of having a child, or to deprive the child of having a decent set of parents?"

Elsewhere, Jensen has worried "that current welfare policies, unaided by genetic foresight, could lead to the genetic enslavement of a substantial portion of our population." (cited in Counterpunch, 11/1/94)
Although I'm not at this point calling Watson a eugenics proponent per se at this point (although some of his prior statements cited above should make one wonder), he certainly seems to be a transmitter for a pseudoscientific perspective on race and intelligence, and given his credentials and general respectability in the scientific community, one whom a lay audience would give undue credence, especially to the extent that such statements would "feel good" to those wishing to maintain an already racist status quo. Watson comes across like any of a number of Pioneer Fund-sponsored pseudo-psychologists. It is useful to also remind lay audiences that the company that Watson is keeping is eerily similar to the Nazi doctors of an earlier era.

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