I have put this week's most discussed text at the top and added this fascinating Google talk:
Video 1: Google talk about biology. The introduction starts at 6:50, the main speaker starts at 10:40, and the questions start at 50:50. Google has chosen one of the most authoritative biologists, James Watson, and asked him to talk about a very appropriate topic, namely "DNA and the brain". Dr. Watson explains that the key to uncovering the causes of brain disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, fragile X syndrome, Alzheimers, etc. is in our genes. He depicts the strides being made by scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a research institution in the biological sciences, as they search to find the genetic basis of neurological disorders. CSHL scientists search to root out disease genes related to mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia...
He answers the "nature vs. nurture" by the word "nature", talks about many details of male brains vs female brains, and recommends you not to be the smartest person in the room because you have no one to help you (very true; elsewhere, he wrote that his IQ was only 122 - three point below Feynman - and as far as I am concerned, I do believe him - he is fascinating but he is also a normal wise guy at the same moment). He shows the DNA patterns behind autism and other interesting things. He recommends mathematically ingenious men to marry beautiful women to avoid autism of children - probably a great idea. ;-) He explains that children's autism is analogous punishment for two intellectuals as HIV/AIDS is a punishment for two homosexuals. ;-) At 48:50, he starts to talk about inequality and political correctness.
Back to his young years. Watson decided to quit bird-watching once he read "What is life?" by Erwin Schrödinger. He chose a university with a good basketball team, discovered the molecular essence of genetics after Rosalind Franklin - an autistic woman and crystallographer who didn't know crystallography too well and who hated other people and especially Francis Crick, the physicist with a loud voice - saw a helix on a picture (she died of cancer...), won a Nobel prize, and became the boss of one of the leading U.S. science institutes. Watson's talk says a lot about the confusions of his contemporaries.
The first question is about the name of a psychologist who studies male vs female brains. Watson mentions Baron-Cohen (and recalls Summers' comments). The second question from a black woman is about the correlation of race and autism: Watson quotes no definite results and makes no predictions. The same woman asks a third question about John Nash: Watson is not sure how the problems can be distinguished. The fourth question is about Craig Venter who left the human genome project and who is called "a Hitler" by Watson. ;-) Watson says that the reason for Venter's exit was different than she thought but sticks to technical points. The fifth question of an excited guy is how the (CS) audience can help him. He answers that large databases are needed. The sixth question is from a female fan who is however irritated by "one-dimensionality" of Watson's picture - IQ axis or male vs. female mind. She thinks that the lesson of DNA is that it is enormously multi-dimensional. He answers that everything is complex but when you want to answer particular questions such the origin of autism, you must make projections and they are useful. The level of testosterone surely matters.
At 60:40, Watson says that Summers' statement on 1/14/2005 was correct and his mistake was the apology. The self-described empathetic woman :-) says "Not at all!" But I must add that Watson's comment in the interview was probably correct but his mistake was the mortified apology! :-) Watson says that the origin of autism is important for some parents but PC at MIT is blocking some research. A male alarmist claims that there must be non-genetic essence of autism because it is rising rapidly. Watson says it does not, only the definition is changing. Another PC guy argues that phenotypes and nurture are the "real frontier" as opposed to genotypes and nature. ;-) Watson explains that we study the genome and the genetics of autism because it recently became possible and the phenotype has to wait when we understand its structure and definition. The reductionist approach dictates to study the genes first. The last question, from a woman, is how the progress in computational biology will improve our knowledge of evolution etc. Watson says that computers are necessary and predicts that 50% of the future genetics departments will be mathematically trained - one half of the likes of Franziska Michor, so to say.
Other Google talks discussed on this blog: Gell-Mann, Taylor, Boussard
James D. Watson, a 79-year-old American co-discoverer of the role of the DNA molecule - one of the most profound discoveries of the 20th century science - and a Nobel prize winner for a hard discipline became the latest target of political correctness.
Why? During an interview in England where he promotes his new book "Avoid Boring People", he avoided boring people and subtly suggested that tests indicate (and employers of black employees confirm) that the Africans are not as intelligent as whites. He predicted that Africa won't be equally successful because the society requires a certain degree of intelligence - or a smart fraction - that seems to be non-existent on the black continent, according to the tests. Whoops. canceled because of his "incendiary" claims. Yes, some DNA pioneers are no longer acceptable in the Science Museum. The blogosphere is full of statements that he is racist and his comments about genetics are not even wrong. Those people don't find it strange at all to dismiss the DNA discoverer's credentials in genetics. He says something inconvenient so he must surely be a bigot, right?
The black-white IQ gap remains at 15-18 IQ points, about 1.1 "white" standard deviation. Whatever is the cause of this difference and whatever is the right reaction to it, the number seems to be so perfectly reproducible and rather accurate so that some people have nicknamed it the "fundamental law of sociology". I don't like the word "denial" too much but I feel that in the case of this piece of cold hard data, it is rather appropriate.
To be sure: this politically correct attack is not limited to leftists. Some creationists use Watson's words as a proof that evolution is inherently racist. Well, I don't know whether it is inherently racist and what this description is supposed to mean. What I find more important is that evolution is true. More generally, I am already disgusted by so many people from so many groups who first look at the political or religious impact of certain answers in science before they decide which answer they are going to believe and defend.
Because others call the facts behind Watson's opinions garbage science, we should ask: is this dispute really about some shaky IQ tests only? I don't think so. I think that a disagreement with Watson's trivial observation is indeed a direct attack against all of evolution. I don't think that someone understands evolution is he or she thinks that groups of organisms that have been virtually isolated from other groups for millions of years keep the same characteristics such as the intelligence. I would say that it is, in fact, the very basic point of evolution that these characteristics are evolving in various ways that are influenced by the environment and other factors. In the case of homo sapiens, the isolation of races has lasted for 50,000-100,000 years only but it is still many thousands of generations!
At any rate, this episode is another example of the fact that even if you work hard, if you are lucky, and if you make one of the three most important scientific discoveries of the century, you will still have no right to talk about your own discipline freely. It's sad but I hope that the politically correct societies will die out sometime in the future and the future scientists, whatever their skin color is going to be, will have a somewhat easier life.
And that's the memo.
P.S. As expected, under the gigantic pressure from the PC gestapo, Watson said he was "mortified" and "unreservedly apologized". That's a well-known ritual that often saves people's lives but it doesn't clean one because some semi-rational members of the PC gestapo still correctly realize that Watson thinks what he thinks, despite "apologies".
P.P.S. Of course, the prediction was correct. One day later, Watson's administrative responsibilities as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory were suspended which is a politically correct way of saying that he was dumped.