Sunday, December 14, 2014


I tend to have a jaundiced view of Russian oligarchs, thanks to their shenanigans over the past couple of decades.  However, I've got to give credit where credit is due:  and one of them has just done something that I, for one, think is a very special gesture.

James Watson is one of three scientists who shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for the discovery of DNA's "double helix" structure.  He attracted controversy in 2007 for his assertion that people of African ancestry were less intelligent than Westerners due to genetic differences.  (I have no idea whether there's any scientific basis to his theory, but as far as I know neither has anyone else.  As far as I can tell, he was pilloried for being politically incorrect.)

Last month Dr. Watson claimed that as a result of his position on race and intelligence, he'd been ostracized from the scientific community.  The Telegraph reported:

James Watson, the world-famous biologist who was shunned by the scientific community after linking intelligence to race, said he is selling his Nobel Prize because he is short of money after being made a pariah.

Mr Watson said he is auctioning the Nobel Prize medal he won in 1962 for discovering the structure of DNA, because "no-one really wants to admit I exist".

. . .

Mr Watson said his income had plummeted following his controversial remarks in 2007, which forced him to retire from the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, New York. He still holds the position of chancellor emeritus there.

“Because I was an ‘unperson’ I was fired from the boards of companies, so I have no income, apart from my academic income,” he said.

There's more at the link.

The sale went ahead last week, but took a surprising turn.

Russia’s richest man and a major stakeholder in Arsenal football club has bought James Watson’s Nobel Prize award for £2.6m [well over $4 million] with the intention of giving it back to him.

Alisher Usmanov, who owns the country’s biggest ore producer, bought the medal at an auction at Christie’s in New York city as he wanted to make sure the double helical DNA structure stayed in the scientist’s possession.

Mr Usamanov was upset to hear he would be selling it as he "deserved" the medal, and wanted to thank him for his discovery which has helped further research into cancer, the disease which killed his own father.

. . .

The billionaire, who was named Britain's wealthiest man in the Sunday Times rich list for 2013 with an estimated worth of £10.7 billion, said: “James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him."

Again, more at the link.

Now Dr. Watson has his Nobel Prize medal, plus enough money to live on for the rest of his life, plus more that he's said he'll donate to worthy scientific causes.  That was a very classy gesture, Mr. Usmanov.  Thank you.



Paul, Dammit! said...

I had a modest-level interest in the study that Watson was talking about. The data is pretty solid. The data treatment used to pull stats was very straightforward and didn't require manipulation or cherrypicking, which lends strength to his argument. The study itself is not particularly controversial. It excludes social and behavioral input. It was politicized heavily ex-post-facto, back when doing so wasn't normal.

There's plenty of room for further detailed study using more rigorous analysis, which could give us some real meat to the argument on both sides, apolitically, at least as far as the data goes... the fact that this hasn't been done speaks more to the nature of the political climate. The groupthink really seems to think that ignorance is bliss.

Hell, I'm grouped in the 3rd tier, being of Western European stock. My in-group is sitting hemidemisemi on the median for mean intelligence potential. Am I offended that my ethnic group is listed as average at best for mean intelligence? Hell no. It's interesting as hell, and the study doesn't address the overlap of standard deviation within each group, which I suspect acts as a leveling agent, percentage wise when you compare across groups. That alone would be a fantastic doctoral thesis for someone, in the unlikely event that such research would ever be promoted.

Bob said...

Heart warming.

It is a great pleasure to see that this man can no longer be harmed by the PC crowd, the social justice warriors, the liberals, the feminists, ad nauseaum.

Good for him... good for that Russian, and to hell with everybody else I just listed.

Divemedic said...

Isn't it odd that the same group of people (the left) that chastises global warming skeptics as being "against science" would destroy anyone that challenges the groupthink by daring to test a hypothesis that is not politically correct?

Old NFO said...

Yep, that IS a class act! Good for him!

Anonymous said...

(I have no idea whether there's any scientific basis to his theory, but as far as I know neither has anyone else. As far as I can tell, he was pilloried for being politically incorrect.)

Largely, yes but there were some people who were willing to lie or to prevaricate and accuse Watson of lying.

For example..

"Watson's comments make it very clear that he is an expert on genetics, NOT on intelligence". IQ tests, as a rule, don't just measure a person's innate intelligence; indeed, intelligence researchers don't have a clear idea what that means. Rather, the tests are skewed by a person's socio-economic status, whether they were malnourished as a child, the quality of their education, whether they perceive the test as a threat, and how much experience they have of similar tests.

Black people, even in western countries, tend to be less well-off than white people. It's therefore not surprising that, as a group, they do worse on these tests. If you take these confounding factors into account, the differences in IQ shrink to insignificance*.

*this is not true. For example, in the US, children of wealthy black parents do as poorly on SAT's as children of poor whites.

Furthermore, there are very good reasons to accept Watson's view. For one human race is not so homogenous, as nearly everyone outside of Africa also has one or perhaps several neanderthals in their family tree, some Denisovans (Melanesians? only).

Africans perform poorly on all sorts of culture-blind IQ tests. They also tend to have cca 8% lower brain volume, an assertion that is old but well supported by modern research.

In addition, it's telling that writing has been invented independently at least three times outside of Africa, but not once in Africa. Though there were proto-writing systems by the 2nd millenium AD in Western Africa..

This is a very involved write-up on the reponses.


trailbee said...

These responses are interesting - not one single one has said I told you so. Somewhere, in all the research, lies the answer. It could be that it has something to do with Lucy and her size. But, anything further would be considered politically incorrect and we shall never learn of it. Kudos to generous Russians. :)