James Watson has heedlessly done the cause of race realism great harm. When a few off-hand remarks to a journalist about racial differences in intelligence produced an outcry, he climbed down, apologized, and canceled his British tour. It is hard for the rest of us to defend a man who will not even defend himself.
It is true there was great pressure on Dr. Watson to recant. The board of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory voted to “suspend his administrative responsibilities,” whatever that means. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) issued an odious statement saying Dr. Watson had promoted “personal prejudices that are racist, vicious and unsupported by science,” adding that “he has failed us in the worst possible way.” No doubt the FAS would have been less disappointed if Dr. Watson had committed murder or treason.
And, of course, when the press sought “experts” to comment on Dr. Watson’s remarks, they found only those they knew would pile on with more invective, and none of the respected scientists who would have said Dr. Watson was right. Again, we are treated to the tiresome spectacle of people who know nothing about the research on race and IQ saying that Dr. Watson’s views are mere “racism.”
What is the next Arthur Jensen or Phil Rushton or Linda Gottfredson thinking today? “If they made one of the most famous names in science grovel, what will they do to me?” And so we will continue to live in a world of contemptible name-calling, in which everyone knows the truth but no one dares speak it.
Dr. Watson should have followed the example of his great predecessor, William Shockley. Late in his career Shockley turned to race, IQ, and heritability, but unlike Dr. Watson, he took a firm, scientific stand and stuck to it. He used his immense scientific prestige to speak in every possible forum. He never backed down, he never apologized for telling the truth. Shockley won the Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor, but went to his grave believing the work he was doing in the genetics of intelligence was more important.
Shockley had integrity and backbone. Based on his behavior so far, Dr. Watson does not.
All the same, it is amusing to see the panic a few casual words have sewn in the scientific “establishment.” Dr. Watson could have taken an unorthodox position on anything else—cold fusion, vitamins, cancer treatment—without provoking anything like this chorus of shrieking. It reminds me of the waning days of the Soviet Union, when every Russian knew Marxism was a fantastic hoax—and therefore had to defend it all the more stupidly and slavishly.
Dr. Watson was right to point out that the scientific noose is tightening on tattered old thinking. He predicts that the genes that code for intelligence will be found in 10 or 15 years, and the controversy will be over. Those who are screaming today will be shown to be the obscurantist bigots they are. But there will be no glory for men like Dr. Watson, who fled the field at the first sound of guns.