James D. Watson vs. Leon Kass
Print Friendly and PDF

I've just noticed that reviewer for The Associated Press writing before the controversy noticed that Watson had mentioned race, and didn't make much of it. He thought that Watson was dull, unless"you're interested in academia or how science gets done," which probably describes the book's target market, but ends his review with this:

But Watson ends the book with a provocative epilogue that raises sharp questions about how some potential genetic findings should be received in the future. The science, he says, must not be stifled by political correctness.
For example, he says scientists may identify malfunctioning genes that predispose people to habitually lie, steal or kill. "The thought that some people might be born to grow up wicked is inherently upsetting," he writes. "But if we find such behavior to be innate, the integrity of science, no less than that of ethics, demands that we let the truth be known."[Memoir by DNA pioneer is a big disappointment By MALCOLM RITTER Associated Press,September 30, 2007 ]

He ends his review by mentioning some of the same remarks on race that Steve Sailer noted here: "A priori, there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically."

Apparently he didn't see how much of a hot potato this would be. But I'd like to contrast Watson's remark that "the integrity of science, no less than that of ethics, demands that we let the truth be known" with what Leon Kass wrote when he reviewed The Bell Curve.

Kass felt that the integrity of science, no less than that of ethics, demanded that the truth be ...suppressed. Kass who was chair of President Bush's "Council On Bioethics", wrote in Intelligence and the social scientist [Public Interest, Summer, 1995]

At the very same time, an ad hoc committee of the Academy, chaired (if I remember rightly) by the eminent geneticist, Theodosius Dobzhansky, decided that the Academy should not commission a study - called for by Nobel laureate and Academy member, William Shockley - into the relation between race and intelligence. Nothing such a study might discover, the ad hoc committee argued, could, if known, possibly do anybody any good.
Though I was appalled at the cowardly censorship of our, in truth, very bland document, and though I was amused to see this double-barreled suppression of thought and inquiry by a collegium that had only scorn for the Church's suppression of Galileo, I remember being very impressed by the prudent and statesmanly report of Dobzhansky's committee, with whose conclusions I then agreed. It seemed to me then that a society founded on the self-evident truth of human equality - the equal dignity of each human being - had no business ranking racial groups, especially on the basis of alleged "scientifically measurable differences" in the powers that most make us human.

And later, he writes:

An unwise social science
Finally, then, was it wise to publish this book, and especially its discussion of racial differences in IQ and their possible genetic origins? The authors, who clearly take delight in speaking frankly (says Murray: "for once, there would be no euphemisms, no self-censorship, no ducking of tough questions"), have in fact considered this question. They acknowledge the risks, but have their reasons for speaking up. First, they wish to challenge the unexamined assumptions of our social policy concerning race: a belief in the genetic cognitive equality among the races and the possibility of equalizing existing socioeconomic differences by social intervention. Further, by breaking the taboo against public speech regarding genes, intelligence, and race, they hope to correct wrong and dangerous racist private opinions, which, they allege, are now widely held and wildly different from our (hypocritical) public orthodoxy of equality.
Insufficiently appreciative that hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, they seek the same (alleged) benefits that came from breaking the Victorian taboos against public chatter about sex (to which they compare ours about racial differences in IQ). Herrnstein and Murray want to let it all hang out: "Taboos breed not only ignorance but misinformation." A richer social science, seeking wisdom and not just statistical correlations, might understand that taboos - including the Victorian ones - are often the embodiments of reason and goodness. Our taboo about race, genes, and IQ seems to me profoundly wise. [PDF]

Kass is arguing for the suppression of truth because of its effects on society, and he seems to have no idea how such social policies, based on the assumption of equality of intelligence, affect the victims of "reverse discrimination," or how much affirmative action quotas cost businesses.

And even if these injustices went away, suppressing the truth is still wrong—trying to remain ignorant of one fact of science is, as Larry Niven observed in another context, like trying to eat one peanut. If you deliberately close your eyes to one fact, you'll bump into some other fact while you're walking around with your eyes closed. That's why this case is important.

Print Friendly and PDF