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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. – Shadur Dec 8 '14 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 '14 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". – Dikran Marsupial Dec 8 '14 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. – Dikran Marsupial Dec 8 '14 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 '14 at 9:07
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Yes.

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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    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. Ditto the comment about "everyone was born with equal intelligence": IMO born implies an argument about nature as opposed to nurture. – ChrisW Dec 11 '14 at 0:23
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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 '14 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 '14 at 3:50
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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 '14 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 '15 at 11:25
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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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I take this excerpt from Charles Murray, the most prominent social scientist on IQ, as instructive about the question of the importance of genetics. From an AEI interview:

On this score, the roof is about to crash in on those who insist on a purely environmental explanation of all sorts of ethnic differences, not just intelligence. Since the decoding of the genome, it has been securely established that race is not a social construct, evolution continued long after humans left Africa along different paths in different parts of the world, and recent evolution involves cognitive as well as physiological functioning.

The best summary of the evidence is found in the early chapters of Nicholas Wade’s recent book, “A Troublesome Inheritance.” We’re not talking about another 20 years before the purely environmental position is discredited, but probably less than a decade. What happens when a linchpin of political correctness becomes scientifically untenable? It should be interesting to watch. I confess to a problem with schadenfreude.

Murray summarizes Wade:

A 2009 appraisal of the available genome-wide scans estimated that 14% of the genome has been under the pressure of natural selection during the past 30,000 years, long after humans left Africa. The genes under selection include a wide variety of biological traits affecting everything from bone structure and diet to aspects of the brain and nervous system involving cognition and sensory perception.

The question, then, is whether the sets of genes under selection have varied across races, to which the answer is a clear yes. To date, studies of Caucasians, Asians and sub-Saharan Africans have found that of the hundreds of genetic regions under selection, about 75% to 80% are under selection in only one race.

It's fairly clear that human evolution didn't stop when humans left Africa--always a dubious claim. This claim's cousin, that genetic deviations are too small to matter or don't cluster around racial groups, has now been evaluated and found to be to be wanting.

Wade states definitely, same source:

“What these genes do within the brain is largely unknown,” Mr. Wade writes. “But the findings establish the obvious truth that brain genes do not lie in some special category exempt from natural selection. They are as much under evolutionary pressure as any other category of gene.”

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    This seems to be talking about racial genetics in general rather than addressing the actual question. – F1Krazy Jun 26 at 15:17
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    @F1Krazy the accepted OP addressed the question of race and IQ (incidentally all that original research was first conducted by C. Murray in the Bell Curve). A community response subsequently wanted to address the roll of genetics in this gap, hence the followup. – K Dog Jun 26 at 15:20
  • 'Most prominent'? Did you mean to write 'most widely derided'? This isn't a balanced answer of the scientific consensus. – Oddthinking Jun 26 at 21:02
  • @Oddthinking You're absolutely wrong. The scientific consensus then and now is that Murray's research was impeccable, as is Wade's and others. See the report of the task force on intelligence that the American Psychological Association formed in the wake of the furor over “The Bell Curve.” It then as in now has no serious scientific detraction. Plenty of political ones though. – K Dog Jun 26 at 21:15
  • FYI: I'm trying to keep an open mind and find that report - all broken links so far, but I am sure it is out there. – Oddthinking Jun 26 at 21:45

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