Deconstructing Watson

I appreciate we are supposed to find this amusing, but I find it rather disturbing:

Sunday Times: DNA pioneer James Watson is blacker than he thought

James Watson, the DNA pioneer who claimed Africans are less intelligent than whites, has been found to have 16 times more genes of black origin than the average white European.

An analysis of his genome shows that 16% of his genes are likely to have come from a black ancestor of African descent. By contrast, most people of European descent would have no more than 1%.

Yes, very funny, let's all laugh at James Watson's silly, racist views (again). But I think this news report could be misconstrued in a number of ways:

  • some people might (bizarrely) interpret the report as supporting the view that Africans are less intelligent than Europeans: silly, old James Watson has more black genes than most Europeans—which explains why he is so silly;
  • some people might interpret it as implying that the genetic contribution to human intelligence is measurable, and separable from the environmental contribution;
  • some might interpret it as implying that there are 'black' (African) genes and 'white' (European) genes—almost as if we didn't all originate in Africa;
  • some might interpret it as implying that 'race' is a meaningful, genetic concept.

In fact, the report says and implies none of these things. But people need to be incredibly careful when reporting this sort of story—in the same way that James Watson should have been a lot more careful when he was expressing his outdated views.

See also: Books: The Mismeasure of Man

Writer and photographer Richard Carter, FCD is the founder of the Friends of Charles Darwin. He lives in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire.WebsiteFacebookTwitterNewsletterBooks
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