One discoverer of double-helix turns out to be fool

Happy Jihad’s House of Pancakes (which has some almost painfully funny posts, like this on Beowulf, and some generally sparkling use of language) quoted Answers in Genesis on the racist garbage reported as having come from the mouth of (Mr DNA) Watson.

What is perhaps most notable is that despite the flak from other scientists, Watson is being entirely true to his atheistic, Darwinist beliefs.

This got me frothing with righteous rage, as nothing has since – well – yesterday, probably. I am going to say this once, despite my desire to repeat it infinitely. But I ‘ll use Bold and caps. Just in case, it’s not clear.


It is science in the same way that crystal aura therapy is medicine.*

Everyone on the planet is of mixed genetic heritage.

However, the human race seems to have indeed originated in Africa, which makes us all genetically African. Which is obviously a problem for Watson, because that includes him in the allegedly less intelligent section of humankind. (Along with, oh I don’t know, 100% of the human species.)

Watson’s adherence to a completely stupid belief system (the unfounded belief that there are races and that there are better and worse ones) does not relate to his atheism. Nor even to his so-called “Darwinism” (which I will take as referring to his recognition of the evidence for evolution, as I am unaware that Darwin devised a philosophical system.)

Wingnut daily took evident delight in drawing a connection between Watson’s casual Jade-Goody-style racism and his failure to believe in God. As if they somehow reflected on atheism itself, in conceptual contrast to the rainbow-coloured-group-hug gathering of brothers and sisters in Christ. As if atheism breeds racism…..

It’s therefore worth pointing quite how recently the US religious right became anti-racists. There was virtual apartheid in the Southern States until the 1960s. And it didn’t go quietly either.

*Unnecessary footnote to spell this out but I’m going to anyway. Just in case someone like Watson ever reads this:

Think “human race.” In this case, the word “race” means “species” – an abhorrent connotation when it’s carried over subliminally into the whole discourse of “race” to refer to … well, what? What else does “race” mean. It would have to have a definable meaning, surely, if Watson believes it can be used in “scientific” experiments to measure “intelligence” (and since when have we had valid cross-cultural measures of that?)

As a concept, “race” has a relatively short and murky history. It was developed, as an ideology, in support of the genocide of the native population of the Americas and, above all, the Atlantic Slave Trade – in order to appease the consciences of the societies that profited, by inventing categories of human beings who could be considered less than human. The idea of race was further refined through centuries of European colonial expansion.

(The Romans had slaves who were mainly Northern Europeans. They characterised all non-Romans as barbarians, i.e. not fully civilised human beings. This [seeing people you are oppressing as not really beings human] seems to go with the slavery territory. However, it wasn’t full-blown racism. Maybe you need pseudo-science to underpin that.)

From the European perspective, “race” got a pseudo-scientific gloss, in Victorian times, along with lots of other wierd pseudo-science concepts about human beings, like phrenology or Lombroso’s identification of criminals by their facial features.

Racist ideas were thus conveniently placed to support the full-blown era of European colonialism in Africa, in the later years of the 19th century. In the 1930s, as colonialism was falling apart, “race” appeared as part of the odious concept of eugenics, which, of course, found its full expression under the Nazis.

In the USA, false concepts of race were used to “justify” slavery and post-slavery Jim Crow laws until the mid-1960s.

Racism seems to have two main flavours: the monochrome (blacks/whites) version or a graduated scale (e.g. the brazilian version with seemingly dozens of distinctions between moreno and louro).

Trying to treat this hateful concept with some undeserved respect, at best it could be seen as a shorthand to describe varying collections of physical and ethnic characteristics. Hence, the Victorian English were able to conceive of the Irish as a different race, on the basis of a slightly greater statistical preponderance of red hair, a different accent, a potato-heavy diet and an adherence to the catholic religion.

The very fact that races cannot be defined outside of culture should be a clue to the purely cultural nature of the construct of race.

Racial definitions continue to manifest themselves very differently throughout the world. In the US, you are racially black if you have even one distant African ancestor. Americans who would be considered unquestionably white in Africa are considered unquestionably black in the US. Do they gain or lose IQ points according to their surroundings?

Bad Social Science from Ben Goldacre

This blog is a great fan of “Bad Science”. But this week, Ben Goldacre has pretty well gone out of his depth when he dipped his toes in the murky pool of social science research.

He applauds what he believes to be the first randomised controlled trial in social research. So far so good. An excellent idea to apply scientific methods to social sciences…. He makes some reasonable specific points but, overall, he is completely missing the point.

For instance, he suggests there should have been randomised trials for Drug Treatment Orders as alternatives to prison, with prisoners allocated at random to one or the other. In this specific case, he shows a lack of social understanding that seems almost wilfull for a doctor. Continue reading