James Watson Nobel Prize winner for his discovery of the structure of DNA made the following claim in a 2007 Sunday Times interview:

"[I am] 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 told the newspaper people wanted to believe that everyone was born with equal intelligence but that those “who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.

James Watson has been ostracized since his 2007 remarks, and has sold his Nobel Prize for income.

Watson’s racial theories of IQ have some academic support, such as in Richard J. Herrnstein’s and Charles Murray’s controversial book 'The Bell Curve,' this remains one of the most contentious [...]

“I am not a racist in a conventional way,” he told the Financial Times.

“I apologize...the [Sunday Times] journalist somehow wrote that I worried about the people in Africa because of their low IQ – and you're not supposed to say that.”

Does IQ testing show that blacks on average score worse than whites?

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    Part of the problem here is that IQ tests aren't really an accurate measure of anything other than the ability to score well on IQ tests. Dec 8, 2014 at 5:25
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    Most of the problem here is that the question, as worded, ignores the confounding factors in a misleading and inflammatory fashion. Correlation does not imply causation. James Watson was lambasted for these statements. A better question Watson might have asked would be: "Does the greater poverty, poorer education and social stereotyping have an effect on the ability of minority groups to score well on IQ tests?"
    – Oddthinking
    Dec 8, 2014 at 6:16
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    Such claims seem to originate from the book "The Bell Curve" by Hernstein and Murray, however they don't use IQ tests, but some sort of aptitude test that is even more culturally/educationally biased. Stephen Jay Gould wrote a criticism "The mismeasurement of man". A few years ago I looked at the Bell Curve (to address a USENET claim) and found they don't even control properly for socioeconomic factors when addressing that particular question. I'd say the answer is "no".
    – user18604
    Dec 8, 2014 at 10:15
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    From a statistical point of view (I am a statistician), the average scores of any two groups is never going to be exactly the same, so even if there was a difference, that doesn't mean the difference is of any practical significance, even if it is of merely statistical significance.
    – user18604
    Dec 8, 2014 at 10:17
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    Kit - that has been debunked over and over. It is not a fantastic tool for measuring intelligence. It measures the ability of the individual to score well on IQ tests, and in the western world there is some correlation with the other items you mentioned, however these correlate better with other factors.
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 11, 2014 at 9:07

2 Answers 2



See 30 years of research on race differences in cognitive ability (2005).

Currently, the 1.1 standard deviation difference in average IQ between Blacks and Whites in the United States is not in itself a matter of empirical dispute.

More recently, it has been observed that "[t]he IQ gap between Blacks and Whites has been reduced by 0.33 SD". They describe the gap further:

It is important to note that there is a dramatic decline of Black IQ with age. Four-year-old Blacks are only about 5 points below Whites of the same age, whereas at age 24, Blacks are 17 points below Whites.

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    Hi! "The notable claim (which is the subject of the question) is "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" ... which might imply/require a genetic factor." I'd say that's a notable claim. But there are more in there, and the one that is bolded and that makes up the title is just whether there is a difference. I'm just answering what the question asks. I'm not getting into every little detail that you might be able to criticize about the quotes.
    – magnesium
    Dec 11, 2014 at 2:42
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    Your answer needs to cover confounding factors if it's going to be as definite as "yes". As it stands, it's not convincing.
    – Sklivvz
    Dec 11, 2014 at 3:50
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    @Sklivvz I don't understand what you're saying about "confounding factors". Isn't accounting for "confounding factors" necessary iff you want to allege causation instead of just correlation? IMO this answer needn't account for confounding factors, because it's only trying to allege correlation and not causation.
    – ChrisW
    Dec 11, 2014 at 5:02
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    Maybe I don't get your emphasis on claims and notable, but I commented above: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/24056/… The asker showed some quotes asked a specific question "Does IQ testing show that blacks on average score worse than whites?", and I answered it. It's an excellent skeptical question to ask. If somebody claims causation (like the quote might be doing), it makes sense to first ask if there even is an effect that needs explaining.
    – magnesium
    Dec 11, 2014 at 14:12
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    This research shows differences between black and white populations, but does not attribute them to skin colour (i.e. genetics). Indeed, as ChrisW's answer notes, the differences are likely due to environmental factors, so it really depends if you are asking about a particular black population or people with certain genetic traits generally.
    – user18902
    Oct 2, 2015 at 11:25

I think James Watson's claim is that there is a difference, and that that difference is caused by genetics.

The quoted claim includes:

  • inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa
  • people wanted to believe that everyone was born with equal intelligence

His claim appears to be contrary to current summaries on the matter, for which Wikipedia summarizes:

Genetics of race and intelligence ends with,

A 2005 literature review article by Sternberg, Grigorenko and Kidd stated that no gene has been shown to be linked to intelligence, "so attempts to provide a compelling genetic link of race to intelligence are not feasible at this time".[109] Hunt (2010, p. 447) and Mackintosh (2011, p. 344) concurred, both scholars noting that while several environmental factors have been shown to influence the IQ gap, the evidence for a genetic influence has been circumstantial, and according to Mackintosh negligible. Mackintosh however suggests that it may never become possible to account satisfyingly for the relative contributions of genetic and environmental factors. The 2012 review by the Nisbett et al. (2012) concluded that "Almost no genetic polymorphisms have been discovered that are consistently associated with variation in IQ in the normal range". Hunt and several other researchers however maintain that genetic causes cannot be ruled out and that new evidence may yet show a genetic contribution to the gap. Hunt concurs with Rushton and Jensen who considered the 100% environmental hypothesis to be impossible. Nonetheless, Nisbett and colleagues (2012) consider the entire IQ gap to be explained by the environmental factors that have thus far been demonstrated to influence it, and Mackintosh does not find this view to be unreasonable.[22]

These statements are more recent than the 2007 claim in the OP.

In summary they're not ruling out the possibility of new evidence in the future (for the theory that a difference in average IQ is genetic instead of environmental), however "several environmental factors have been shown to influence the IQ gap", and genetic factors haven't been isolated such that they'd reliably predict these differences.


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