Nigerian agrees with DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners

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.

Nigeria: I Agree With Dr Watson

Daily Trust (Abuja): Opinion
25 October 2007
Idang Alibi

A few days ago, the Nobel Laureate, Dr James Watson, made a remark that is now generating worldwide uproar, especially among the blacks.

He said what to me looks like a self-evident truth. He told The Sunday Times of London in an interview that in his humble opinion, black people are less intelligent than the White people.

Since then, some of us cannot hear anything else but the outrage of black people who feel demeaned by what Watson has said. So many people have called the man names.

To be expected, some have said he is a racist. Some even wonder how a "foolish" man like Watson could have won the Nobel Prize. Even white people who, deep in their heart, agree with Watson want to be politically, correct so they condemn the man.

Why are we blacks becoming so reactive, so sensitive to any remarks, no matter how well-meaning, about our failure as a race?

Why are we becoming like the Jews who see every accusation as a manifestation of anti-Semitism?

I do not know what constitutes intelligence. I leave that to our so-called scholars. But I do know that in terms of organising society for the benefit of the people living in it, we blacks have not shown any intelligence in that direction at all. I am so ashamed of this and sometimes feel that I ought to have belonged to another race.

Nigeria my dear country is a prime example of the inferiority of the black race when compared to other races.
Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, by Daniel Goleman [Amazon]

Let somebody please tell me whether it is a manifestation of intelligence if a people cannot organise a free, fair and credible election to choose who will lead them. Is it intelligence that we cannot provide simple pipe-borne water for the people? Our public school system has virtually collapsed. Is that a sign of intelligence? Our roads are impassable.

In spite of the numerous sources that nature has made available to us to tap for energy to run our industries and homes, we have no steady supply of electricity. Yet electricity is the bedrock of industrialisation.

When you agree with the school of Watson, some say you are incorrect because all these failures are a result of poor leadership. Why must it be us blacks who must always suffer poor leadership? Is that not a manifestation of unintelligence?

In the name of international trade, bilateral co-operation, globalisation and other subterfuges, the norm in the world today is for smart people to appropriate the wealth of other people for themselves and their countries. But more among the blacks than any other race, the practice is to steal from their own country and salt away to other people's country. Is it intelligence that our leaders steal billions of naira and hide in other people's country?

Anywhere in the world today where you have a concentration of black people among other races, the poorest, the least educated, the least achieving, and the most violent group among those races will be the blacks.

When indices of underdevelopment are given, black people and countries are sure to occupy the bottom of the ladder.

If we are intelligent, why do we not carry first when statistics of development are given? Look at the African continent. South Africa is the most developed country because of the presence of whites there. This may be an uncomfortable truth for many of us but it exists nevertheless. If the whites had been driven away after independence, we would have seen a steady decline of that country.
Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, by Richard J. Herrnstein, Charles Murray [Amazon]

In terms of natural endowment, Africa ought to be the richest of the continents but see the mess we have made of the potential for greatness which God in his infinite wisdom has bestowed upon us.

We have proved totally incapable of harnessing the abundant natural resources to become great.

Today, there is a renewed scramble for the wealth of Africa. China, our new "friend", does not bother about the genocide against fellow blacks in the Sudan by the Arabs who control the affairs of that country. They say they do not want to interfere in the internal affairs of any country. All they want is the oil in Sudan to run their industries. Yet, we blacks have not seen the Chinese action as an affront to our sensitivities.

Every race takes us for granted because we are so weak and so foolish, if you permit me to say it.

I am really pained by our gross underachievement as a race.

Instead of regarding bitter truths expressed by the likes of Watson as a wake-up call for us to engage in sober reflection, we take to the expression of woolly sentiment.

For me, this type of reaction is a further evidence of our unintelligence.

A man of intelligence recognises genuine criticism against him and takes steps to improve himself in order to prove his critics wrong. But for us blacks, our reaction is to abuse the man who expresses worries about our backwardness.

Other races are deeply worried about us because we are a problem to the world. We suffer from the five Ds: disorderliness, debts, diseases, deaths and disasters. Our disorderliness affects others or else they won't be too bothered about us. Many are afraid because our diseases could infect them.

Polio has been eradicated all over the world yet it is still found in Nigeria here. When they give us money to help us eradicate it, our thieving officials will embezzle the money; the virus will spread and endanger the health of not only our people but other people as well. Out of a shared sense of humanity, some cannot bear to see how we die in thousands almost every day from clearly preventable diseases and causes.

For years now, our people die extremely painful but perfectly preventable deaths from buildings which collapse because they were poorly constructed. How can you tell me we are as intelligent as others when we set traps for ourselves in the name of houses and others do not do so?

Some people are extremely frustrated about us. If they have a way of avoiding us, they will be too glad to do so because we are a problem.
The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America, by Steven Fraser [Amazon]

As I write this, I do so with great pains in my heart because I know that God has given intelligence in equal measure to all his children irrespective of the colour of their skin. The problem with us black people is that we have refused to use our intelligence to organise ourselves socially and politically.

It should worry us that we do not invent things. We do not go to the moon. Our societies are not well-organised. We have the shortest lifespan of all the races. Something must be wrong with us. Why are we not like others?

Our scholars will be quick to say that these are not the only ways of measuring intelligence. They will quote other scholars to adumbrate their point, but the fact remains that we are not showing intelligence. Others are showing it more than we're doing. If they are not more intelligent than we are, let someone tell me how to put it.

God himself must be frustrated with his black children. They must be an embarrassment to him. He has given us everything he has given to other of his children; why are his black children not manifesting their own gift?

A few years ago, the whites used to contemptuously call the Japanese "little Japs". Today, the Japanese and other Asians have pulled themselves up by the bootstrap and have arrived. No one speaks of the Japanese or Asians with contempt anymore.

When people like Watson speak about us in unedifying terms, we should take it as a challenge to prove them wrong by sitting down to plan how we can become world-beaters.

If our political leaders are the reason for our backwardness, we should resolve to get the kind of leaders who will be instrument for our rapid progress.

I may not know how intelligence is measured but my limited knowledge of intelligence is that it can also be measured by the kind of leaders a people decide to have. If, for instance, our professors preside over the massive rigging of elections, it means that we do not have very intelligent professors. Such rigged elections will no doubt produce unintelligent leaders. Such unintelligent leaders will do stupid things which will prove that we are not as intelligent as other races.

Do I sound confusing or intelligent?

I am ready for some of our 'patriotic' intellectuals who will write and abuse me for the 'outrage' I have expressed here but I stick to my guns: we lack intelligence and as stated in the Bible, anyone who lacks intelligence should cry unto God who is the custodian of wisdom to bestow some upon him. We should go on our knees today and ask God why we do not appear as intelligent as our other brothers.

I am confident God will reveal to us what we must do, and urgently too, to change our terribly unflattering circumstances.

» » » » [All Africa]

Fury at DNA pioneer's theory: Africans are less intelligent than Westerners

Celebrated scientist attacked for race comments: "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours - whereas all the testing says not really"

By Cahal Milmo, Sunday Independent.UK
Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Nobel laureate James Watson opens TED2005 with the frank and funny story of how he and his research partner, Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA.
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.
The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA, by James D. Watson [Amazon]

The newly formed Equality and Human Rights Commission, successor to the Commission for Racial Equality, said it was studying Dr Watson's remarks "in full". 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".

His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

The furore echoes the controversy created in the 1990s by The Bell Curve, a book co-authored by the American political scientist Charles Murray, which suggested differences in IQ were genetic and discussed the implications of a racial divide in intelligence. The work was heavily criticised across the world, in particular by leading scientists who described it as a work of "scientific racism".
Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, by James D. Watson [Amazon]

Dr Watson arrives in Britain today for a speaking tour to publicise his latest book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. Among his first engagements is a speech to an audience at the Science Museum organised by the Dana Centre, which held a discussion last night on the history of scientific racism.

Critics of Dr Watson said there should be a robust response to his views across the spheres of politics and science. Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "It is sad to see a scientist of such achievement making such baseless, unscientific and extremely offensive comments. I am sure the scientific community will roundly reject what appear to be Dr Watson's personal prejudices.

"These comments serve as a reminder of the attitudes which can still exists at the highest professional levels."

The American scientist earned a place in the history of great scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century when he worked at the University of Cambridge in the 1950s and 1960s and formed part of the team which discovered the structure of DNA. He shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for medicine with his British colleague Francis Crick and New Zealand-born Maurice Wilkins.

But despite serving for 50 years as a director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island, considered a world leader in research into cancer and genetics, Dr Watson has frequently courted controversy with some of his views on politics, sexuality and race. The respected journal Science wrote in 1990: "To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script."
DNA: The Secret of Life, by James D. Watson [Amazon]

In 1997, he told a British newspaper that a woman should have the right to abort her unborn child if tests could determine it would be homosexual. He later insisted he was talking about a "hypothetical" choice which could never be applied. He has also suggested a link between skin colour and sex drive, positing the theory that black people have higher libidos, and argued in favour of genetic screening and engineering on the basis that "stupidity" could one day be cured. He has claimed that beauty could be genetically manufactured, saying: "People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would great."

The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory said yesterday that Dr Watson could not be contacted to comment on his remarks.

Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University and a founder member of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science, said: "This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically."

Anti-racism campaigners called for Dr Watson's remarks to be looked at in the context of racial hatred laws. A spokesman for the 1990 Trust, a black human rights group, said: "It is astonishing that a man of such distinction should make comments that seem to perpetuate racism in this way. It amounts to fuelling bigotry and we would like it to be looked at for grounds of legal complaint."

» » » » [Sunday Independent]

Mainstream Science on Intelligence

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The article as it appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday December 13, 1994 [Large]

Mainstream Science on Intelligence was a public statement issued by a group of academic researchers in fields allied to intelligence testing which claimed to present those findings which are widely accepted in the expert community.

It was originally published in the Wall Street Journal on December 13, 1994 as a response to what the authors viewed as the inaccurate and misleading reports made by the media regarding academic consensus on the results of intelligence research in the wake of the appearance of The Bell Curve by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray earlier the same year. It was drafted by professor of psychology Linda Gottfredson and signed by Gottfredson and 51 other university professors specializing in intelligence and related fields, including around one third of the editorial board of the journal Intelligence, in which it was subsequently reprinted in 1997. The 1997 editorial prefaced a special volume of Intelligence with contributions from a wide array of psychologists

The letter to the Wall Street Journal set out 25 conclusions:
Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis, by Richard Lynn [Amazon]

  1. "Intelligence is a very general mental capability ... it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings ..."
  2. "Intelligence, so defined, can be measured, and intelligence tests measure it well. They are among the most accurate (in technical terms, reliable and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments."
  3. "While there are different types of intelligence tests, they all measure the same intelligence."
  4. "The spread of people along the IQ continuum ... can be represented well by the ... ‘normal curve'."
  5. "Intelligence tests are not culturally biased"
  6. "The brain processes underlying intelligence are still little understood"
  7. "Members of all racial-ethnic groups can be found at every IQ level"
  8. "The bell curve for whites is centered roughly around IQ 100; the bell curve for American blacks roughly around 85; and those for different subgroups of Hispanics roughly midway between those for whites and blacks. The evidence is less definitive for exactly where above IQ 100 the bell curves for Jews and Asians are centered"
  9. "IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any other single measureable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic, and social outcomes ... Whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and social importance"
  10. "A high IQ is an advantage because virtually all activities require some reasoning and decision-making"
  11. "The practical advantages of having a higher IQ increase as life’s settings become more complex"
  12. "Differences in intelligence certainly are not the only factor affecting performance in education, training, and complex jobs ... but intelligence is often the most important"
  13. "Certain personality traits, special talents, [etc] are important ... in many jobs, but they have narrower (or unknown) applicability or ‘transferability’ across tasks and settings compared with general intelligence"
  14. "Heritability estimates range from 0.4 to 0.8 ... indicating genetics plays a bigger role than environment in creating IQ differences"
  15. "Members of the same family also tend to differ substantially in intelligence"
  16. "That IQ may be highly heritable does not mean that it is not affected by the environment ... IQs do gradually stabilize during childhood, however, and generally change little thereafter"
  17. "Although the environment is important in creating IQ differences, we do not know yet how to manipulate it"
  18. "Genetically caused differences are not necessarily irremediable"
  19. "There is no persuasive evidence that the IQ bell curves for different racial-ethnic groups are converging"
  20. "Racial-ethnic differences in IQ bell curves are essentially the same when youngsters leave high school as when they enter first grade ... black 17-year-olds perform, on the average, more like white 13-year-olds"
  21. "The reasons that blacks differ among themselves in intelligence appear to be the same as those for why whites ... differ among themselves"
  22. "There is no definitive answer as to why bell curves differ across racial-ethnic groups. The reasons for these IQ differences between groups may be markedly different from the reasons for why individuals differ among themselves within any particular group"
  23. "Racial-ethnic differences are somewhat smaller but still substantial for individuals from the same socio-economic backgrounds"
  24. "Almost all Americans who identify themselves as black have white ancestors – the white admixture is about 20% ... research on intelligence relies on self-classification into distinct racial categories"
  25. "The research findings neither dictate nor preclude any particular social policy, because they can never determine our goals"

As Hauser (2010) reports, there is no general agreement about what is meant by intelligence. The editorial gave the following general definition of intelligence:

Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience. It is not merely book-learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings “catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do.

Gottfredson (1997b) describes intelligence in her own article in the same volume less broadly as "the ability to deal with complexity."

» » » » [Excerpts: Wiki: Mainstream Science on Intelligence]

The elementary DNA of Dr Watson

History will remember James Watson for the discovery of the double helix. But his pronouncements are often highly controversial. His former protegee examines the complex legacy of a Nobel laureate

Charlotte Hunt-Grubbe, The Sunday Times
October 14, 2007

The names Watson and Crick, it has been said, have “joined Darwin and Copernicus among the immortals”. The pair’s discovery of the structure of DNA, in 1953, has been hailed by fellow Nobel laureates as the greatest single scientific achievement of the 20th century. Today the only one remaining of the two, Dr James Watson, 79, stands alone as “the godfather of DNA”.

When, sitting at a dinner in Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1996, this ageing geneticist gingerly leant over to the guest by his side – the formidable headmistress of a large girls’ boarding school – and said, “I’m looking for some girls,” he was met with an appropriately cold stare. However, when he explained he was in England to hand-pick two students, one male and one female, to live in his Long Island home with him and his wife, Liz, and work as geneticists for a year at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, it was an opportunity too good to lose. The headmistress promptly replied: “Well, funnily enough…”

It’s August and I am standing on the shimmering forecourt of the laboratory’s towering neuroscience building. “You’re doing this for the future of women in science,” my headmistress had impressed on me, 10 years earlier, as I left to start my stint at the laboratory bench. Watson, she said, had come over specifically to recruit a girl – a change from the male-dominated programme to date. Glancing up, I see a familiar figure pacing briskly over sun-drenched paving slabs towards me. At 79, Watson looks remarkably unchanged, perhaps his scant wisps of hair a touch whiter and gait a little less sure. “Ah, Charlotte,” he says enthusiastically and, pausing to give me the wide, open-mouthed smile I remember well and fixing me with intense, pale grey eyes, he presses my shoulders and plants a kiss firmly on both cheeks.

I am back in Long Island to discuss the geneticist’s latest and, he tells me, final memoir, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science. His early life and academic career, peppered with useful tips for “those on their way up” as well as those “on the top who do not want their leadership years to be an assemblage of opportunities gone astray”. And – as befits the ultimate memoir of a forthright scientist – an inflammatory epilogue with eye-popping theories that will, undoubtedly, leave ethicists choking with disbelief. We are not alone, however. A rotund thirty-something man asks for a photograph, puffing his chest and beaming proudly into the camera lens. Later, Watson tells me that the visitor was a science reporter who confided he has a form of schizophrenia.
Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean (Human Evolution, Behavior, and Intelligence), by Michael E. Levin [Amazon]

The visitor’s trust is well founded. Standing just a few hundred metres from the building, vast construction frameworks jut above the campus. This, Watson’s latest project – an impressive $100m new-build – heralds a new era of genetics. It will soon become Cold Spring Harbor’s platform for unravelling the genetic causes of mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. He is convinced that within 10 years “we will be able to diagnose the problem of schizophrenia by looking at the patient’s DNA”.

James Watson, or Jim, as the majority of scientists call him at the lab, has an energy that’s infectious, almost childlike. Born in Chicago in 1928 into a family who believed in “books, birds, and the Democratic party”, his outgoing character comes, he tells me, from his mother, the well-liked and extrovert Margaret – a raven-haired beauty who worked enthusiastically for the Democrats, the basement of their modest house doubling as a polling station at election time. His father, James, worked for a correspondence school and was a quiet, kind character who introduced his son to books and instigated a love of biology with early-morning birding forays in the nearby park. Watson recalls that he was conditioned to accept his father’s disdain for “any explanation that went beyond the laws of reason and science”.

Caught up in the Depression of the 1930s, he slept in tiny attic rooms with his younger sister, Betty, in the middle-class neighbourhood of South Shore, playing evening games of “kick the can” and softball in bungalow-lined streets. Skinny-framed and physically weak in his teens, his only consolation from school bullies was his parents’ empathy, encouraging constant trips to buy milk shakes to “fatten him up”. He recalls how a pupil cheerfully told him how, given his social awkwardness, “none of my classmates thought I would amount to much”.

In his picture-lined office, sitting beneath a rough paper sketch of a twisting DNA helix, Watson leans back in his chair, excitedly discussing his book. “Not being boring isn’t sufficient to be a success in this world, but certainly,” he pauses, fixing me with a brilliant smile, “it helps.” He says he hopes the book will encourage people to go into science and – tilting the cover to the light points out a hidden “Other” between the words “Boring” and “People” – “One, I’m a snob; the other, I’m a realist!” He giggles in delight.
Race and IQ, by Ashley Montagu [Amazon]

Watson didn’t grow up thinking he was particularly gifted. “I never was one of those boy geniuses who could do maths,” he admits. But he does remember his teachers liked him, commenting that: “I must have had some spark that I didn’t know I had myself.” At the extremely young age of 15, he was admitted to the University of Chicago; his mother knew the head of admissions, he says, and “I always thought I got in because they liked my mother”. For a brilliant but awkward teenager, university was the break he needed. “A world where I might succeed using my head – not based on personal popularity or physical stature – was all that mattered to me,” he writes.

Watson prefers to eat at Winship’s, the chatty, down-to-earth laboratory bar overlooking the harbour, named after my boss of the time, whom he describes as having the “second loudest laugh I’ve ever heard after Francis Crick”. He mingles enthusiastically, hands shoved deep in dark-

red knee-length shorts, an orange floppy sunhat perched on his head. He remembers, as I do, being seduced by the informal and intelligent atmosphere of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, something he first encountered as a 20-year-old biology graduate on a summer course. He says that in these early days, molecular biology was a very small field and people “didn’t know what DNA was”. He was under the spell of Max Delbrück, the charismatic young German lab director who played tennis and wasn’t “stuffy”.

For Watson, the ability to socialise is a key skill, one he believes can help propel you far beyond your peers. “Gossip is a fact of life also among scientists. And if you are out of the loop of what’s new, you are working with one hand tied behind your back.” The trait is clear among his staff, who, chatting easily at the bar, have the “ungeeky” Watson touch. My headmistress recalls the geneticist wanting a “bright but not very boffiny candidate who had lots of other interests” and who, above all, was “sociable”.
Working with Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman [Amazon]

When Watson arrived in the Cavendish laboratory at Cambridge University as a 23-year-old postdoc, thirsty for the truth about the genetic material in our cells, his sociable American ways encountered Francis Crick’s “extraordinary conversational ability”, and he was hooked. Suddenly it no longer mattered what Delbrück thought: “It became what Francis thinks.” The pair freely discussed their scientific findings with other researchers at Cambridge and King’s College London, and Watson says this was essential to the pair’s ability to work out the detailed structure of the DNA molecule.

But there was someone who seemed immune to Watson’s precocious intelligence and eager collaboration: the acclaimed x-ray crystallographer Rosalind Frankin – someone described by Watson and Franklin’s estranged research colleague Maurice Wilkins, who shared the Nobel prize, as “hostile”. Whereas Watson admits to never having a problem asking for advice, writing that it is better for someone to “know my inadequacies than not to be able to go on to the next problem”. Franklin seemed unwilling to risk criticism, reportedly preferring to work on DNA in isolation, jealously guarding her results. Watson comments that “avoiding your competition because you are afraid that you will reveal too much is a dangerous course”.

As he chews a melted-cheese sandwich and sips an iced coffee in the bar, he reflects on his relationship with “Rosy”. “She was possibly somewhat Asperger’s,” he says quietly, “because she didn’t seem to even want to look at people and would hurry past them. I think she wasn’t good at knowing what other people thought and so she would insult them. She had some terrible interviews with the Medical Research Council and I think she cried afterwards. She was just awkward.” Then he softens: “I tell people, instead of feeling angry at awkward people, you realise it’s not their choice. It’s awful. And I think science selects for awkward people because you think in dealing with ideas, you don’t have to deal with people. But the moment you’re in science and you realise you can’t deal with other people, you’re at an enormous disadvantage.”

It is hard to ignore the accusations that emerged around that time. In 1962, Watson, Crick and Wilkins received the Nobel prize for physiology or medicine, but by then Franklin – whose data was so crucial to the discovery – had died at the age of 37, her life cut short by ovarian cancer. But when, in 1968, Watson wrote an account of the DNA “race” in which he revealed that Wilkins had shown him Franklin’s data without her knowledge, and compounded it by being derogatory about her physical appearance, he was slammed by feminists riled by what they believed was a blatant case of sexism. Although the prize can only be shared by a maximum of three people in one category – and Franklin’s input was readily acknowledged – they claimed her contribution had been overshadowed. When, in an interview at the time, he was asked why it mattered how a woman looked, he said: “Because it’s important” – a statement surely grounded in the genteel influences of his early life, when manners mattered, and being unkind “just wasn’t the way to behave”. And occasionally, throughout the day, his “old-fashioned” ideals come through. He describes Max Delbrück’s wife, Manny, as someone he liked very much but “not the sort of wife he needed”, adding that she was a terrible cook and would never have enjoyed the entertaining and fundraising that comes with being a university president’s wife. He also refers more than once to his disdain for women turning men into “girly men”, which means “men who don’t have the courage to say anything – it’s absurd”.
Ecological Intelligence: The Hidden Impacts of What We Buy, by Daniel Goleman [Amazon]

Feminists are a constant source of trouble for him. I remember him turning to me the day the headline “Abort babies with gay genes, says Nobel winner” appeared in a British broadsheet 10 years ago. Eyes wild and voice uncharacteristically strained, he asked: “What should I do about the press?” He refers to the incident again at lunch. “It was a hypothetical thing,” he explains. “If you could detect it pre-natally, could a woman abort a child who was homosexual? I said they should have the right to, because most women want to have grandchildren, period. We can’t do it, but it’s common sense. Anyways,” he says, shaking his head wearily, “it was a bad day when that headline hit. I was just arguing for the freedom of women to try and have the children they want, not what is right or wrong.”

One former pupil, an eminent biologist and staunch feminist, is outraged at his account of her in his book. He describes her as having “bolted from the room” when the ex-Harvard University president Larry Summers gave his infamous lecture suggesting that the low representation of tenured female scientists at universities might stem from, among other causes, innate differences between the sexes – an “unpopular, though by no means unfounded” theory, Watson comments. “She can criticise men; men can criticise women,” he says. “People criticise me all the time and you just take it. If you enter the public arena then you’re subject to it.” On the subject of gender equality he says, adamantly: “All I care about is great science.”

But he happily admits to appreciating a pretty smile or a well-dressed physique. A love of things aesthetic is unmistakable – pictures, glass sculptures and his elegant wife, Liz, 20 years his junior. He once said that in the early days, “almost everything I ever did, even as a scientist, was in the hope of meeting a pretty girl”. However, on the subject of science, he seems impartial. He admits that Rosalind Franklin would have seen the double helix first “had she seen fit to enter the model-building race and been better able to interact with other scientists”, and makes a point of mentioning that a former female student whose career he “certainly encouraged” – who is now a high-powered biology professor – calls him “the first real feminist for women in science”. As I sit with him, another former female student is being derided for her poor personal hygiene. He jumps to her defence: “No,” he shakes his head, dismissing it. “She was very intelligent.”

We drive in Watson’s silver-grey Volvo between tall sycamores and past the laboratory basketball court – a favourite pastime for many of the staff, fulfilling his rule to “exorcise intellectual blahs” by incorporating “plenty of physical exertion

to get outside your head regularly”. The road winds down to Ballybung, the Watsons’ peach-coloured Palladian-style home perching on the edge of Long Island Sound, which serves as a tranquil retreat from the bustling campus.

The lab is undoubtedly his second legacy. When he took on its directorship in 1967 at the age of 39, it was an ailing institution whose endowment was effectively zero, but it stands today as one of the world’s foremost genetic research institutes. Last year its budget stood at an impressive $115.4m. Success, he believes, comes from having the right objectives: “Ones that are important and which are achievable.” Is he proud of the achievement? “Yes, I always wanted anything we did to be in the top five in the world. But I achieved it by encouraging people and making people think that you’re good enough to do something very good and make sure you don’t waste your life with unimportant objectives.” He says Cold Spring Harbor couldn’t survive if the science was pedestrian: “It has to be unusual or you die.”

When he took on the directorship, he split his time between Cold Spring Harbor and his professorship at Harvard. At 39 he had been captivated by the Radcliffe sophomore Elizabeth Lewis, the young assistant in his university faculty. After a lightning romance, he memorably wrote a postcard to a close friend saying:

“19-year-old now mine.” As I wait in Ballybung’s homely kitchen, Liz breezes in clutching a bunch of sunflowers to “brighten up the hall, because they are so pretty”. A dark-haired beauty with wide-set eyes and a dazzling smile that, says Watson, “would always make me feel good”; it seems clear her intelligent and solid support contributes much to the laboratory’s success.

On late nights back from the lab, I would stumble over little presents and notes on the stairs to our annexe – timely reminders from Liz not to forget a drinks party that weekend. The Watsons, I soon discovered, never stop working. The house was invariably crammed with rich benefactors and potential donors. Unaware of funding concerns then, I find out that the new buildings I saw earlier will need an additional $100m on top of the building costs, to “attract researchers”. Jim is as blatantly direct about his fundraising tactics as about everything else. He writes: “Nothing attracts money like the quest for the cure for a terrible disease.”

But the quest for the root causes of mental illness is not driven only by a lust for the truth. Of his two sons – Rufus, 37, and Duncan, 35 – Rufus lives at home, seriously incapacitated by an ability to plan ahead. “Rufus couldn’t really do his schoolwork,” Watson says. “Even though he was bright, he could never write a term paper because he couldn’t really organise his thoughts. He can handle one day and that’s all that he wants to think about.”

Rufus was first hospitalised at the time of the 1986 meeting on the human genome. Watson realised that he would never really find out what was wrong with him until he could isolate the genes. But, as more is uncovered about the causes of schizophrenia, he wonders if he himself is to blame. “I worry that I was 42 with Rufus,” he says. “I read that the frequency of schizophrenia goes up with the age of both parents.” This leads him to expound his latest socio-biological theory, that “Viagra is fighting against evolution” – because if evolution has selected for erectile-dysfunction disorder, it is to prevent older men fathering children. He suggests that “men should store sperm at 15 to be used if they want to be fathers at 80”.

He talks of the “horror and destruction” of life that can arise from having a severely autistic child, and hopes that by diagnosing autism early, “we might prevent some [autism-prone] families having subsequent children”. His mother died young, at 57. He says her heart was weakened by rheumatic fever earlier in her life, and that his father died of lung cancer. It was the quest to understand the biology of cancer that ultimately lured him from his professorship at Harvard. As the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, he could preside over seasoned professionals, focusing his efforts first on “recruiting scientists who cared as much as I did about the biology of cancer, and then on finding the funding they needed to make their ideas work”.
Intelligence, Race, And Genetics: Conversations With Arthur R. Jensen, by Frank Miele [Amazon]

But what of the man himself? “I used to be three inches taller,” he says conspiratorially. “I used to be almost 6ft 2in and now I think I’m barely 5ft 101/2in.” His voice drops to a whisper: “You get smaller.” The other disconcerting thing for the geneticist is that, when they sequenced his DNA, he hardly had anything left of his Ychromosome – an evolutionary phenomenon that commonly occurs as men age. “I try not to think about it,” he chuckles. Acutely conscious of his physical appearance in his youth, he still finds looking at himself irksome. “The trouble is,” he says, as the photographer shows him a picture, “I don’t like the ones that look like me.” His ideal look? “Twenty-five,” he chuckles, “but I’d be satisfied with 35. A man, no matter how old, wants to think of himself as no more than 35, and to look at a wife who was 45… No! That would immediately tell you how old you are.”

As I sit on the plush tennis lawns of the nearby Piping Rock club, I am aware – as Watson powers formidable forehands cross-court – that even during his daily relaxation he is unfailingly competitive. “I play for two reasons,” he tells me. “To stay fit, and when occasionally I win a good point against a good player, I feel good.”

Does he ever reflect on his achievements?

“I don’t think back much. I’m still thinking can we find the genes for mental disease while I’m still mentally alive, and will we have stopped cancer in 10 years, and… will my tennis serve improve?”

We are waiting at a red light on the way back from tennis and, for Watson, a meeting with a potential sponsor. I remember that while I was thrilled when a sheet of familiar laboratory paper landed on my desk a few months ago, asking if I would like to interview him for his new book, I was wary of the ethical content. “If I believe something then I’ll say it,” the scientist says. “I figure, generally, at least half the time I am reflecting common sense, which is not a lie.”

Back in 1990, the journal Science commented: “To many in the scientific community, Watson has long been something of a wild man, and his colleagues tend to hold their collective breath whenever he veers from the script.” When, in 2000, he left an audience reeling by suggesting a link between skin colour and sex drive – hypothesising that dark-skinned people have stronger libidos – some journalists suggested he had “opened a transatlantic rift”. American scientists accused him of “trading on past successes to promote opinions that have little scientific basis”. British academics countered that subjects should not be off limits because they are politically incorrect. Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, said that “nothing should stop you ascertaining the scientific truth; science must be free of concerns about gender and race”.

He says that he is “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”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”.

When asked how long it might take for the key genes in affecting differences in human intelligence to be found, his “back-of-the-envelope answer” is 15 years. However, he wonders if even 10 years will pass. In his mission to make children more DNA-literate, the geneticist explains that he has opened a DNA learning centre on the borders of Harlem in New York. He is also recruiting minorities at the lab and, he tells me, has just accepted a black girl “but,” he comments, “there’s no one to recruit.”
Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, by Daniel Goleman [Amazon]

Watson will no doubt enthusiastically counter the inevitable criticisms that will arise. He once commented to a fellow scientist – perhaps optimistically – that “the time was surely not far off when academia would have no choice but to hand political correctness back to the politicians”. Even after a year at the lab, I am still unnerved by his devil-may-care compulsion to say what he believes. Critics may see his acceptance of “softer-science” studies – that attempt to link IQ with specific genes, but remove society and other factors from the equation – as a dangerously flippant approach to a complex issue. His comments, however, although seemingly unguarded, are always calculated. Not maliciously, but with the mischievous air of a great mind hoping to be challenged. I ask him how he placates those he offends. “I try to use humour or whatever I can to indicate that I understand other people having other views,” he explains.

As I motor back to New York, I reflect on a man who – at nearly 80 – is, and will remain, an immensely powerful and revered force in science. I wonder whether it’s possible, as his desire to shock seems so strong, that a fear of boring people really does play on his mind. Perhaps the best description of the man is from the driver. “Dr Watson’s so kind and still very young at heart,” he drawls as we leave the campus behind. “He’s got a lot of curiosity about everything and he’s always working. But to him it isn’t work: it’s a challenge to the mind. And if he runs into a problem, it’s fun time.”

Avoid Boring People by James D Watson (Oxford University Press, £14.99) is published on October 22. It is available at the BooksFirst price of £13.49, including postage and packing. Tel: 0870 165 8585

» » » » [Sunday Times.UK]