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Race and Intelligence

Scientists should be allowed to be wrong, no matter how reprehensible and ghastly their views turn out to be.

By and 10.30.07

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America is the home of the free and the land of the brave. At least that is what we all learned in school. A basic tenet of the role science has in a free society is that the government does not direct science or instruct scientists where their quests must lead; that scientists are free to explore and search for truth, whether that truth is convenient, politically correct, contradicts government policy, or runs contrary to the sentiments of the day. Truth is truth, whether you like it or not and agree with its existence. Truth is not like your wife who may look beautiful to you and ugly to your girlfriend, or vice versa. When the Inquisition forced Galileo to recant the Copernican theory, after he did so, he muttered, "And yet [the Earth] it still moves."

Apparently a subject that has attracted scientists is the question of the correlation between race and intelligence. Now don't get us wrong. We believe that basically this is an area of wasteful analysis. In our lives, we don't deal with "races," we deal with individual people. For instance, if science has determined that Jews are smarter than Buddhists, the fact is if we needed an operation, we would rather have a smart Buddhist picking up the scalpel than a dumb Jew. But if scientists want to explore a particular subject for what they believe is a search for the truth, and want to waste their (hopefully, not the public's) money on a particular piece of nonsense, so be it.

A worldwide uproar occurred because Nobel Prize winner James Watson made a racist statement about the supposed lower intelligence of Africans. "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours," according to the London Sunday Times, but then he added, "Whereas all our testing says, 'Not really.'" Who cares? Even if true -- which we believe it is not -- it is basically an irrelevancy. Does that mean, if Watson is to be believed, that Africans should not be entitled to an equal share of the economic pie, the right to be equally educated, or the right to have all the protections and benefits that government can offer? In short, even if it were true -- again, which we do not believe it is -- who cares? Might not centuries of exploitation and denial of the benefits of education and health facilities cause testing to be skewed?

Watson's position is eerily similar to that of Professor Arthur Jensen, who wrote an article in 1969 in the Harvard Educational Review wherein he postulated that racial differences in intelligence test scores may have a genetic origin. He suffered the same fate as Dr. Watson.

While one may believe or disbelieve this sort of pseudo-science -- and we do believe these "results" should be dumped into the dustbin where we personally put global warming and the Loch Ness monster -- scientists like Watson and Jensen should have a right to journey to wherever their scientific quest leads them and not be attacked personally. The problem is, if we start attacking the scientists, somewhere down the line we will only produce scientists who produce what the government wants them to produce. Their role will basically be one of validating positions that have already been taken by the authorities before they begin their undertakings. Even if these explorations result in cockeyed results and theories and, in the long run, theories that should impact our thinking not one bit, the alternative -- cutting off the scientists before they do the work, or making them feel that if they don't produce the desired results they will be personally discredited -- is much worse than the nonsense they eventually produce.

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About the Author

Jackie Mason is a comedian.

About the Author

Raoul Felder is a lawyer.