(note: the above is one article, there are many others)
In case no one has noticed, Dr. James Watson (who, along with Crick, “discovered” DNA) has been the subject of some controversy regarding certain “racist” comments made recently (see above link for details).
Basically, Dr. Watson says that science will “confirm” (in as little as “10 years”) that “blacks” (those of African descent presumably) are “less intelligent” than “whites” (those of “Western” descent presumably). Of course, Watson is ahead of the curve in already hypothesizing that equality among races is a myth. He notes: “people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true”. It should be noted that this is the same Dr. Watson who has hypothesized that “libido” differs across racial lines, noting “That’s why you have Latin lovers. You’ve never heard of an English lover”. It is also the same Dr. Watson who has argued that “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.”
Predictably, as a result of this latest faux pas, Dr. Watson’s scheduled speaking engagement at the London Science museum has been canceled, with several peers quickly jumping in to assert that his claims are “racist” and “genetic nonsense”. As one government minister aptly noted, his views will “give oxygen” to “extremist views”. Unfortunately, lost in all the posturing and rhetoric by both sides of this debate, is a golden opportunity to confront Watson’s claims directly and from a particular perspective probably unfamiliar to the natural sciences. It is my view that if one confronts Watson purely as a “scientist”, then one must concede victory to Watson if his claims end up conforming with empirical findings (and on this point, I actually suspect that this could be and will be the result). What is missing, is a chance to refute Watson and condemn his findings not because the findings are inaccurate, but because the whole project is misguided in and of itself.
Having recently read a preface to “The Order of Things” by Foucault and some excerpts from “A Discourse on Language” (also by Foucault), Watson’s claims struck me as absurd insofar as the findings are the result of a form of “categorization” that embodies certain historical political conceptions that we have today repudiated. If truth and reality is largely (not entirely) socially constructed (remember, empiricism itself does not take place in a vacuum, with a “view from nowhere”, but is a practice of value-laden human beings), then it seems that there is a wide open field on which to attack Watson’s claims without engaging him on a “scientific” level (i.e. analyzing the genetic differences between “blacks” and “whites” and correlating them or not to some kind of “intelligence”), a level which is riddled with categorical and discourse biases reflecting anachronistic viewpoints which we have openly discarded in other arenas. So, in that sense, Dr. Watson is “racist” (though, again, I stress that I do not believe that the others who have attacked Watson as “racist” are utilizing this reasoning).
This kind of analysis, which philosophy (Foucauldians at least) is equipped to use, is sorely needed. The current response, in my opinion, fails in 2 ways. First, the non-engagement of Watson and his claims (by unreasoned ad hominem labeling, i.e. “racist”) makes him appear a sympathetic figure to those who (a) are inclined or leaning towards his viewpoint and (b) those, like myself, who instantly sympathize with anyone espousing a viewpoint which is attacked without being engaged (i.e. when I hear someone’s views being attacked without engagement, I suspect the truth of the view being attacked). Second, the non-engagement is disastrous if Watson’s claims do, in fact, turn out to be “correct” (in the “scientific” sense).
I just wrote this as I thought it, so any comments, responses, disagreements, suggestions, etc. are appreciated.