Short Shrift

There are several things in the news that are worth mentioning tonight; in particular I’d like to ruminate a bit on the James Watson imbroglio. But I’ve just got back from teaching class down at the kwoon, and it’s too late to begin a long post (especially as my forearms are a bit banged up, rendering typing somewhat unpleasant). So the difficult subject of what to do about awkward scientific results will have to wait, I’m afraid.

I’d be remiss, though, if I didn’t pause to thank Joe Torre for all the wonderful years he gave us as Yankees skipper. He will be a mighty hard act to follow.

But you know, of course, that I won’t send you away empty-handed. So here is tonight’s wisp of Internet froth: an engaging optical illusion, complete with pop-psych rubbish about brain-hemisphere dominance.


  1. Hannibal says

    James Watson is an old KKK. Fact!! Indians from India excel than whites in USA schools and Universities. Look at their skin colour. African immigrants from Africa not black Americans, excel in USA schools than most whites. See!! not because you whites have succeeded to enslave black Americans in Materialism and false hope, subjecting them not not excel in education, which means you should generalized. It is your time to rule, but remember your days are numbered and your influence is shrinking fast, just like the Old James Watson who still dream of the time he and his dad could go up in their farm and have any black slave for their night time tea. Have the James Watson ever read about ancient Mali, the center of science and excellence? It takes one generation to bring about the rebirth of Africa’s Glory in the sciences and it is happening now, but you white just can’t see it, just like you did not see Asia rising. This is the glory of God, cause white America is drunk in its jealousy of the black man’s Penis, that the black man will take their women from them, that is the origin of the white man’s jealousy and hatred for the black race and I don’t blame them. Hannibal should have concurred the whole of Europe then this nonsense would not have come to being.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 3:28 am | Permalink
  2. Charles says

    When I first saw the dancer a few days ago, she turned counterclockwise. But then I looked again and she was turning clockwise. Now I can’t see her turn any way but clockwise. How can she turn in both directions?! This is driving me crazy! Aaaahhhh!

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 5:58 am | Permalink
  3. Nathan says

    I don’t know what genetic evidence there is for the statement that blacks are less intelligent than whites. Perhaps Watson is racist. But what I have a problem with is the assumption that he IS automatically a racist because he says something that is insensitive or politically incorrect. Why doesn’t he get challenged on the facts? If I said blacks get sickle cell disease more often than whites, am I racist? If I say people of Asian descent have darker skin than people of Scandinavian descent, am I a racist? Let’s assume (for the argument) that there is some scientific evidence that black people have marginally lower IQ than white people, would Watson still be pegged a racist? Yes, absolutely. There are things you’re not supposed to say, even if they’re true. As for Hannibal’s “penis theory” I find that just as racist and offensive as Watson’s statement. I’m perfectly satisfied with my penis, be it whiter and smaller than yours. Don’t flatter yourself with this BS.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 9:20 am | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Charles, that was my experience exactly: first counter-clockwise, and then, once I had made a brief effort to get to her going clockwise, I couldn’t get her to go widdershins again for more than a second or two. It seems that, somehow, clockwise, though not the automatic first impression, is somehow “stickier”. Very odd.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 10:31 am | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Hannibal and Nathan: Welcome, and thanks for visiting; I don’t think you’ve commented here before.

    Hannibal: Forgive me, but to begin with an ad hominem assault on Dr. Watson is certainly not putting your best foot forward. What is of interest is the political storm his inflammatory comments have caused, and whether any scientific results actually support them. For you to make such ill-argued (not to mention ungrammatical) remarks as you did — including racist howls about penis envy, and gratuitous yelps about the the glory of God — might be seen by some as buttressing his position, which I am sure was not your intention.

    Nathan: I agree. You might like to look at a recent discussion here.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 11:17 am | Permalink
  6. I have no idea whether there is any scientific basis for Watson’s assertions, but I believe that he should be able to make an argument without being suspended from his laboratory for doing so. I also think Larry Summers should have been able to make the case that women may not have a scientific ability equal to men without losing his job.

    However, I question the wisdom of making inflammatory assertions which are not actionable. In other words, let’s suppose that Watson is correct. What do you then do with that information? Does the value of proving a hypothesis which is unlikely to lead to any tangible good outweigh the offense it will cause to many, as well as the likelihood (or certainty) that it will be twisted by others to be used as a basis for discrimination?

    The case of Larry Summers is different, as if his argument is correct, there are things which can be done to rectify things. With Watson, if his argument is correct, then we have information which is unlikely to do much good and likelier to do much harm. Hence, in my view, Watson ought not to have mouthed off to the interviewer.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 5:41 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Hi Peter,

    I also question the wisdom of making inflammatory assertions that are not actionable. There is indeed an ethical dimension to be considered in all of this, and we did devote some attention to the question in the series of posts found here, here and here.

    The Larry Summers case was a particularly striking example of the stifling excesses of today’s political climate. Most people I talk to about it don’t even have the slightest idea of what he was really saying; they just think that he was saying that women can’t be as good at science as men.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 6:01 pm | Permalink
  8. I open up the comments function and what do I find?

    A Hannibal Lecture.

    I’m tempted to say, “Eat me,” but that would be crude and possibly taken literally, so I’ll refrain.

    Meanwhile, Hannibal, you take care about those prions … though from the evidence of your writing, my advice may come too late.

    Jeffery Hodges

    * * *

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 7:04 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    Jeffery, you slay me. Some days I just love blogging.

    Given what we’ve heard so far, perhaps there is even more to fear from priapism than prions. If nothing else, there’d be more for it to work on.

    Posted October 19, 2007 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

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