Eric Lander apologizes for toasting Jim Watson

May 14 2018 Published by under Academics, Staring in Disbelief, Tribe of Science

Dr. Eric Lander, of the BROAD Institute, recently gave a toast honoring Jim Watson at the close of the Biology of Genomes meeting. See below Twitter thread from Jonathan Eisen for an archived video copy of the toast. (Picture via: Sarah Tishkoff tweet)

Lander has now apologized for doing so in a tweet:

The text reads:

Last week I agreed to toast James Watson for the Human Genome Project on his 90th birthday. My brief comment about his being “flawed” did not go nearly far enough. His views are abhorrent: racist, sexist, anti-semitic. I was wrong to toast. I apologize.

I applaud Dr. Lander for this apology.

This comes after a bit of a Twitter storm. If you wonder why some people see value in using social media to advance progressive ideas*, this is one example.

Some key threads from

Jonathan Eisen

Angus Johnson

Michael Eisen

One of the most amazing things in all of the twitter discussion over the weekend is that there are still people who want to try to claim that Watson's decades of abhorrent ranting about people he disdains, tied in many cases to the scientific topics he is discussing and in others to the people he thinks should be allowed or disallowed to participate in science, have nothing to do with public accolades "for his scientific accomplishments".

Additional Reading:
Snowflakes Falling

We've finally found out, thanks to Nature News, that the paltry academic salary on which poor Jim Watson has been forced to rely is $375,000 per year as "chancellor emeritus" at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The current NIH salary limitation is $181,500, this is the maximum amount that can be charged to Federal grants. I'm here to tell you, most of us funded by NIH grants do not make anything like this as an annual salary.

 

Arrogant jerkwad creates meaningless kerfluffle, News at Eleven

Notorious arrogant bastard* and Nobel laureate, James Watson shoots off again, this time descending into race/intelligence minefield [Pharyngula, Zuska, denialism blog]. Consequently gets talk cancelled. The ass kick by Greg Laden here and here, pre-empts my need to get into the intelligence literature. Blogosphere and MSM goes nuts for a news cycle or two.

Famed Scientist Apologizes for Quoted Racial Remarks

James Watson: What I've Learned

Should you be allowed to make an anti-Semitic remark? Yes, because some anti-Semitism is justified....
Francis Crick said we should pay poor people not to have children. I think now we're in a terrible situation where we should pay the rich people to have children. If there is any correlation between success and genes, IQ will fall if the successful people don't have children. These are self-obvious facts.
If I had been married earlier in life, I wouldn't have seen the double helix. I would have been taking care of the kids on Saturday.

__
*Call it constantly angry performative social justice warrioring if you like. Whatever it takes. Just get er done.

22 responses so far

  • Jonathan Badger says:

    I think Jack Heinemann made an excellent point in the linked twitter feed. though -- "Yet everyone was quiet when Jim held the strings of power and controlled the funding".

    Back in the 1990s, when Watson still had real power, everyone in genomics just rolled their eyes when Watson said the damnedest things. It's only been since he's been retired that he's become a pariah.

  • DNAman says:

    If you were reviewing an NIH proposal from a PI who was a known (or widely rumored) sexual harasser, would you take that into account? How?

  • drugmonkey says:

    If you were reviewing an NIH proposal from a PI who was a known (or widely rumored) sexual harasser, would you take that into account? How?

    I don't know about "widely rumored". But if I was convinced someone was a sexual harasser this would render me unable to fairly judge the application. So I would recuse myself and tell the SRO why I was doing so. As one is expected to do for any conflicts that one recognizes about the proposal.

  • SidVic says:

    DNAman what part of " Just get er done." do you not understand? Recuse-moral cowardice.

  • Skeptic says:

    Watson may be sexist and has certainly made some rather course comments, but the incident that got him banned from polite (i.e. politically correct society) is that he let slip the truth in an interview about race differences in intelligence. He made a comment to the effect that all the studies indicate that black intelligence is lower than that of whites, hence he was pessimistic about Africa's future. He did not even mention the magnitude of the IQ gap between whites and black Africans, which is about two standard deviations. That this IQ gap exists is a fact that, to my knowledge, no expert in the field disputes. The only thing that makes some people become hysterical is when it is suggested that any portion of the IQ gap has a genetic basis. At this point, however, the evidence for a significant genetic contribution is overwhelming. I understand that this is a very unfortunate reality, with huge implications for society, but to deny reality is unbecoming to anyone who claims the title of scientist.
    Btw, the "ass kick by Greg Laden" links did not link to anything useful. Can anyone offer any good evidence or argument to support the claim that all races have identical intelligences? Can anyone offer a sound evolutionary explanation as to why one would even expect that all races should have evolved identical levels of intelligence? These are honest questions. I have investigated this subject a lot, and have yet to find satisfactory answers.

  • Skeptic says:

    Seriously, DM? That's your response? An unreferenced blog post? I commend you for allowing my comment to pass the PC filter, but please, give me little more. I will be happy to provide you with peer-reviewed literature citations, if you wish. I only ask that you do the same in return. I also, respectfully, ask when and why you adopted the current state egalitarian religion. Did you thoughtfully consider the one and only tenet of that religion and conclude it to be true, or did you conclude it to be true without rational consideration?

  • SidVic says:

    Wow, skeptic, talk about turd in the punch bowl. We were just celebrating the humiliation of a nonagenarian and his old think. I mean he was toasted, Toasted! in public! surely you cannot expect this to be tolerated.

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    At this point, however, the evidence for a significant genetic contribution is overwhelming.

    Bullshit. Within population genetic contributions to IQ have been estimated, but between population differences have not. In addition to heritable contributions, a substantial fraction of the variation in IQ can be explained by environmental effects (see the Flynn Effect). As a quantitative trait, variation in IQ would also be subject to gene-environment interactions. There have been no adequately powered GWAS on IQ that take into account population structure, which would be needed to identify allelic differences between populations that would explain population-level differences in IQ. We do have strong evidence for strong environmental effects on IQ, and there are large environmental differences across populations. Anyone arguing that there is *overwhelming* evidence that racial differences in IQ are genetic is espousing pseudoscientific racism.

  • GM says:

    That is correct -- there is no evidence for genetic contribution to the gap in IQ. More likely than not it is primarily environmental. Making such statements is not helping at all.

    For the gap is very much real, and it is very much a real problem that you are indeed not allowed to even say that it exists.

    Which is baffling -- presumably if we are truly concerned about equality between all people, we would be doing our best to help the situation in Africa (and in inner cities in the US) improve to the point where environmental conditions are equally favorable for everyone's development...

    Somehow I don't see the thought police doing much in that direction though.

    Maybe because you cannot work towards addressing a problem the existence of which you refuse to acknowledge. Maybe because there is actually no real concern about equality, and this is all a unconscious but very clever and effective tactic to elevate one's own social status by reaping the benefits of being the self-proclaimed "protector" of the oppressed. Maybe it's some combination of those things, or something else, who knows...

  • A Salty Scientist says:

    @GM. If you believe that people concerned about racial equality are not trying to improve environmental conditions, you have not been paying attention.

  • Skeptic says:

    I am afraid you are off target, Salty. Yes, there have been many studies of within population heritability of IQ, and they all converge on about 80% by the time a person reaches adulthood. That leaves a 20% environmental contribution. The problem is no one has figured out how to change the environment to maximize that remaining 20%. Even very intensive early childhood interventions have not succeeded in producing any noteworthy long term IQ gains. Given the high within group heritability of IQ, it is very plausible to speculate that a good fraction of the between group difference is also heritable. But one need not merely assume this; it has been tested, via adoption studies among other things. For anyone interested in objectively reviewing the race IQ gap and its genetic component, I would suggest 1) Rushton and Jensen (2005) "30 years of research on race differences in cognitive ability." Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 11: 235-294. 2) Richard Nisbett's rebuttal to (1) is in the same issue, p. 302-310. 3) Richard Nisbett's book "Intelligence and how to get it" (2010) contains a not-too-lengthy section on the black-white IQ gap in which he argues for a 100% environmental cause. 4) Rushton and Jensen wrote a review of Nisbett's book in which they provide a point-by-point rebuttal. The Open Psychology Journal 3: 9-35.
    There are currently GWAS studies going on that continue to identify more genes associated with intelligence. See Hill et al. (2018) Molecular Psychiatry (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41380-017-0001-5). GWAS studies for intelligence-associated genes are, of course, complicated by the fact that so many genes influence intelligence. But as these studies progress, the one thing that is certain is that the genes for intelligence will not be distributed equally among all human populations.
    The assumption that all races have identical intelligences is very difficult to reconcile with the state of the world. Blacks live at or near the bottom of the SES ladder in majority white countries with or without a history of slavery and segregation. And living standards are far worse for blacks in majority black countries. If all races have identical intelligences, there should be at least one example of a predominantly black country somewhere in the world that could be considered prosperous by Western standards. Is there one? (Wakanda doesn't count)

  • SidVic says:

    I will also add that the chinese generally do not have the taboos concerning genetics and intelligence that is present in the west. They appear to be riding hard into the area with a new 1Billion investment on genetic-IQ issues. Currently it is possible to select fetus with superior characteristics (as determined with DNA testing) for implantation. Genetic engineering to boost desirable traits is not far off. Brave new world- it's chugging down the tracks.

  • Skeptic says:

    Good point SidVic. Given the current trajectory of the West, it won't be long before the Chinese rule the world.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    SidVic - Do you have a link or source for that Chinese investment in genetic-IQ issues?

  • SidVic says:

    BGI appears to be a major player.

    http://www.weareresonate.com/2017/07/chinese-scientists-collect-dna-smart-people-engineer-genius-babies/

    https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/chinas-92-billion-precision-medicine.html

    Google around... there is a lot of info. You might have to learn chinese for the juiciest stuff.

  • jmz4 says:

    ""If all races have identical intelligences, there should be at least one example of a predominantly black country somewhere in the world that could be considered prosperous by Western standards. Is there one? (Wakanda doesn't count)"

    Here you're assuming that intelligence is somehow a determinant of prosperity both at the individual and society levels. At the society level, this is just a blatant disregard for history. At the individual level, I don't know how you can be certain that this is true, given that all the indicators are co-mingled. Family wealth affects IQ, as does education level of parents. It is not axiomatically true that more intelligent people have a higher predilection for attaining advanced degrees (in fact, the current state of academia would belie that inference). And in fact, some studies have isolated an environmental component amongst well educated households, in genetically identical children as well: https://news.virginia.edu/content/iq-children-better-educated-households-higher-study-twins-indicates-0. Given what we know about the restricted access to these resources in the USA, such disparities in wealth and educational attainment may make up the entire perceived "racial" difference, and not genetics. And as far as I know, know Western country has a minority black population that has not had a history of discrimination or disparate misfortune. I'd be interested in hearing of one, though.

    You're also eliding the significance of cultural barriers in confounding the accurate measurement of intelligence. For instance, if the tests, in the course of constructing a math problem, asked me about chitterlings, I"d have to spend at least a little bit of mental exertion to recall that these are a disgusting food served in the South and overcome the urge to vomit in my mouth a little, before answering. That could cost me some points.

    " But as these studies progress, the one thing that is certain is that the genes for intelligence will not be distributed equally among all human populations."
    -One, your use of the term "genes for intelligence" demonstrates your unsophisticated grasp on this subject. There are not, "genes for intelligence" there are, probably, allelic variants that contribute differentially to processes that would make one more or less intelligent, as measured in a limited way, defined by imperfect tests. Two, there is no way of knowing that these alleles will be distributed between population in such a way that they will produce a meaningfully disparate outcome.

    Now, having responded to your claims, I'd like you to answer two questions. Why do you care so much that intelligence be proven to be the ultimate arbiter of social hierarchy, and that it have a predominately genetic basis, and one that explains the race gap in IQ scores? Why does it matter enough to argue about?

  • DNAman says:

    About race and genetics: I'm going to use white to mean "ancestors a few thousand years ago lived in Europe", black is "ancestors a few thousand years ago lived in Africa", and asian means "ancestors a few thousand years ago lived in China".

    If you could somehow plot difference between people on a 2d plane, you might think of the human race as some kind of triangle with white, black and asian at the three vertices, and everyone falling somewhere within that triangle. That's not accurate.

    A much more accurate view is something like the human race is a big black circle. White and asian people form an island inside that circle. Black people could be anywhere inside the circle.

    This is consistent with history: 200k years ago all of our ancestors were black people in africa. They had lived there intermixing for millions of years. Then about 100k years ago a small group left africa and ended up colonizing india/china/north america/etc. Some broke off from that group and colonized europe.

    So, all white/asian people descend from that small group. When you look at genetic diversity today, you see that there is more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world.

    Better is not something we can easily quantify in genetics, but diversity is. It is very clear that black people have more genetic diversity that white/asian.

    I would guess that this might have something to do with the general observation that black people are over represented in some professional sports where genetics give an advantage. It's not that the 'average black guy' can jump higher or run faster than the 'average white guy'. It's that the distribution for black people is wider than for white people, because of the greater genetic diversity in black people. So when you look at the extremes, the fastest runners or highest jumpers, you get an overrepresentation of black people.

    If intelligence had anything to do with genetics, I would expect the same. My guess is that the environmental effects dwarf any genetic effects on intelligence. There's all kinds of problems with the GWAS intelligence studies that identify SNP variants associated with intelligence. I honestly don't think they will hold up over time.

  • Neuro-conservative says:

    @DNAman - could you enumerate some of the problems you see with GWAS intelligence studies?

  • Skeptic says:

    "Here you're assuming that intelligence is somehow a determinant of prosperity both at the individual and society levels. At the society level, this is just a blatant disregard for history."

    Not sure what you are referring to here, but at least with regard to the world as it stands today, I suggest you read "IQ and global inequality" by Richard Lynn and Tatu van Hanen. High IQ populations generally build pleasant societies (North Korea being a notable exception); low IQ populations build ... well, let's just say "outhouse countries." With regard to success at the individual level, IQ is the single best predictor of a range of different life outcomes, including career success (or lack thereof), criminality, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency, etc. see for example the infamous Bell Curve. Basically, high IQ is associated with good life outcomes, and low IQ with the opposite.

    "Family wealth affects IQ, as does education level of parents."

    Of course it does, but IQ also affects family wealth and the education level of the parents. In fact, IQ is a stronger predictor of an individuals adult SES, than ones childhood SES predicts ones IQ (see for example Arthur Jensen's "the g factor).

    "It is not axiomatically true that more intelligent people have a higher predilection for attaining advanced degrees"

    Yes, it is. In fact, many GWAS studies are now using educational attainment as a proxy for IQ, given that racial disparities have made IQ a taboo subject.

    "And as far as I know, know Western country has a minority black population that has not had a history of discrimination or disparate misfortune. I'd be interested in hearing of one, though."

    That would include virtually every country in Western Europe, Canada, and Australia. If you think their poor outcomes in those countries are do to discrimination, I would ask you to explain the success of other minority groups in those countries. Ashkenazi Jews, for example, are among the most successful minority groups in every country they occupy, and they have certainly faced their fair share of discrimination. Not surprisingly, they also have the highest average IQ of any population. And once again, your comment leaves us having to explain the state of every country in SS-Africa and Haiti. If you provide the standard liberal response of "colonialism," I would ask you to explain Liberia and Ethiopia, which were never colonized and can hold their own with respect to any other outhouse country.

    Your implication that cultural barriers explain the poor performance of some groups on IQ tests is so old and debunked, that it is amazing anyone still makes it. In fact, the black-white IQ gap is greatest on the *least* culturally influenced, i.e. the most g-loaded tests, for example, Raven's progressive matrices.

    "One, your use of the term "genes for intelligence" demonstrates your unsophisticated grasp on this subject."

    I contemplated for a moment using the term "alleles for intelligence," but did not since one more often hears the expression "genes for intelligence." This may be the common expression for the sake of lay audiences. However, if it makes you feel better to believe my grasp of the subject is unsophisticated, go ahead.

    "Now, having responded to your claims, I'd like you to answer two questions. Why do you care so much that intelligence be proven to be the ultimate arbiter of social hierarchy, and that it have a predominately genetic basis, and one that explains the race gap in IQ scores? Why does it matter enough to argue about?"

    My main goal in trying to educate people about racial disparities in IQ is to help dismantle the racism industrial complex. At the moment every failure of non-whites, particularly blacks, to achieve equity with whites is blamed on white racism. This is simply false and generates a tremendous amount of hatred by blacks against whites and undoubtedly is a major contributor to the epidemic of black on white violent crime. Thus, as whites move towards minority status in the United States and elsewhere, we are on track to becoming not merely a minority, but a hated minority. It also matters a great deal with regard to immigration policy and what type of country we wish to become. We are currently bringing in a large number of people (not all of them) from low IQ countries, under the assumption that we have some sort of magic dirt that will transform them into future doctors, scientists, and engineers. This is false. The majority of these people are net tax consumers and the best possible outcome is that we end up resembling Brazil. I would rather not live in an outhouse country, nor do I want my children to live in one.

  • Skeptic says:

    DM, as the host of this blog you might want to chime in at some point here. Do you care to explain how so many physical differences between races could evolve while only one human organ, our most energetically expensive human organ, the human brain, was somehow exempt from the forces of natural selection?

  • JL says:

    Skeptic, you would have made Himler proud. Now, go play with your friends in the White house.

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