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2007 in Review: Scientific Racism Redux

Genetic Crossroads
December 21st, 2007

James Watson

Scientific racism - the idea that racial disparities in social outcomes can be explained by biological or genetic traits - made a striking comeback this past year.This was most evident when DNA pioneer James Watson raised quite aruckus by saying 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."

Watson's evidence? As he puts it, "people who have to deal with black employees find [the idea of Blacks having equal cognitive abilities as Whites] not true."

Response to these outlandish comments was swift. But, a number of commentators came to Watson's defense - most notably, Slatecolumnist Will Saletan. While disavowing the explicitly racist sentiments behind Watson's statement, Saletan penned three columns on why the empirical evidence from IQ tests and genomic research suggests that it is not racist per se to conclude that Blacks are inherently inferior.

From Saletan's perspective, this is simply what the data objectively shows. That is, until Saletan realized that the data he heavily relied upon came from research supported by the Pioneer Fund - an organization notorious for funding racist views and shoddy research. Commentators were quick to point out Saletan's numerous and egregious errors (click here and here). But unsurprisingly, the response received half as much coverage as the initial statement, giving scientific racism an unwarranted veneer of legitimacy that is likely to continue into 2008 and beyond.

Earlier in the year, relationships between race and genes were also misconstrued on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah's regular guest Dr. Mehmet Oz gave legitimacy to the repeatedly debunked slavery hypothesis: the idea that Blacks' disproportionately high hypertension levels are caused by a gene that was selected for as a result of the Middle Passage.

 

 

 


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