Nobel laureates behaving badly

James Watson (discoverer, with Francis Crick, of the double helix structure of DNA) comments on development policy. From the Independent:

One of the world's most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that "equal powers of reason" were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America's leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.

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.

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".

I won't comment on the thing that most needs commenting on (I may return on this tomorrow, and I'm sure there is going to be ample talk elsewhere on the blogosphere), but I can't help but notice that his words show a deep appreciation for economists. Assume you drop a 'dump' bomb on Cameroon or Belgium and everyone's IQ falls by 20 points. As an economic adviser to Cameroon or one of the countries that want to see Cameroon become rich, how on earth would you change your tune to reflect that? Are 'good economics' different for clever and for dumb nations? Politician: 'Hey, I have new data here, average IQ fell from 124 to 104. What should we do to maximise our growth prospects? Economic Adviser: 'Gosh, I had given you the right policy prescription for clever people. For dumb people, you need to raise the marginal rate of income tax to 30%, impose tarrifs on imported goods and start subsidising your farmers.'

(I am not saying that there are clever and dumb nations, so don't attack me in the comments for that. I know, the post does not deal with the important aspect of the matter here, but hey, that's what I felt like commenting on)

Postscript: Oh no, not again - a book is behind this too?

His views are also reflected in a book published next week.


  1. Anonymous Says:

    If you had an economy focused on trying to be a world leader in research (like ours) and you found that your population was dum, wouldn't that effect whether it was a good idea to pursue the world leadership in research thing? perhaps you'd focus on farming instead