As a sociologist, I know the connections between "hard science" and "social science" have always made strange bedfellows. On the heels of teaching my class about the myriad of crazy ways "scientists" have tried to boil down and classify race, I got a slew of emails in my box about Dr. James Watson. For those who slept through high school biology (hey, I'm not pointing any fingers)he is one of the pair responsible for discovery of the structure of DNA. Here is an excerpt about his controversial comments
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".
This further displays to me the one thing I have believed to be true... science can't explain the social. (My use of science here is referring more to chemists, biologists, etc. who the popular world traditionally identifies as scientists, while ignoring most other forms of systematic inquiry (e.g. sociology, political science, etc.) So it turns out a brilliant scientific mind, can't seem to buy the equality of races theory. My question is, why is this news? Scientists have habitually failed to understand that observed differences do not mean inherent inequality. From Carolus Linneaus (yeah the taxonomy dude)to Charles Murray the project of demonstrating black inferiority has been an international pastime. While I started this post thinking about how "scientists" have continued to fail our understanding of the social world, I recalled that my own beloved sociology has been dually informed by these misconceived notions.
In reality, the vary foundations that we examine our world on today are steeped in racial bias. Watson, like many others, has assumed evidence of inequality is evidence of inferiority. I won't take the time to respond because numerous scholars have tackled this issue, but still their rejoinders will never capture the American public like Watson's comments.
What captured the public is that a man who could discover the structure of something unobservable to the naked human eye cannot discover the structure of racist thinking. This is the greatest scientific puzzle, in my humble opinion. While the lab offers an ideal location to study your phenomenon of interest, when it comes to understanding human difference, the toughest questions spill beyond the lab into our hearts and minds. While we ask, "how could Watson say that?" we should also ask, if a brilliant man like him could believe this, what beliefs of inferiority and superiority are so many of us quietly carrying? And when that is fully discovered/uncovered will that win a Nobel Prize?