I’ve certainly enjoyed my discussion with Anthony Horvath over the past few days, and it’s been gratifying to see how this exchange has altered his perception of Jim Watson. Going into this past weekend, Horvath was convinced that Watson was guilty of “putting your foot in it” with remarks that assert that racism has a basis in evolutionary theory. It’s pretty clear that Horvath originally thought that Watson’s remarks were themselves racist, since he used this case as the headliner for a post on why scientists should not receive “undue regard” (supplemented by additional examples of scientists behaving unethically), and since he assumed he was being called a racist when I pointed out that he was essentially agreeing with Watson.
His first reaction was to deny that he had agreed with Watson, except perhaps on a minor, innocuous point.
Now, I did struggle to discern where I agreed with Watson on a genetic basis for racism. I don’t see where I spoke to that at all.
Genetics, of course, being the link that is supposed to tie racism to evolutionary theory. He denies agreeing with Watson because he still sees Watson’s remarks as being embarrassingly racist. But on further reflection, a mere day or two later, Horvath seems to have completely reversed his perception of Jim Watson. Instead of being an unduly regarded scientist demonstrating a lack of ethical integrity, Watson now seems to be, in Horvath’s view, an unfairly reproached scientist who holds scientifically-based ethical views that no reasonable person ought to be ashamed to agree with.
He fails to quote what Watson said about those remarks, so I will do so for him:
“I can understand much of this reaction. For if I said what I was quoted as saying, then I can only admit that I am bewildered by it. To those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologise unreservedly. This is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.” [Emphasis Horvath’s]
That sounds an awful lot like he denied saying the things that were attributed to him. Don’t you think?
What does “This is not what I meant…. there is no scientific basis for such a belief” mean? Not that he stands by the quote attributed to him and which you quoted against me. I have already said that if more evidence about the matter emerges, for example that it becomes apparent that he really did say such things, or similar things, I’d be willing to re-evaluate the matter.
So Watson never did actually put his foot in anything after all, according to Horvath’s current reading of the article he originally cited. Not only does he now think that Watson is being unjustly accused, he has also come around to agreeing (again) with what Watson was trying to say:
Trust me, I have no desire to defend Watson. Yet, I cannot deny that there can be, in principle, genetic contributing factors to intelligence… Merely making the observation isn’t racist, just like observing that person x has blue eyes and person y has brown eyes isn’t being racist. To get to that point, you actually have to start down the road of assuming the superiority and/or inferiority of one or the other.
From Watson as a good example of a bad example, an unduly regarded scientist “putting his foot in it” with his unethical remarks, to Watson the media victim whose evolutionary views offer no support at all for racism. That’s a tremendous journey for Horvath to have made in only a few short days, and he is to be commended for it. He does try to blame self-conscious atheist hysteria for the backlash against Watson, apparently unaware of the hullabaloo the right-wing Christian media and blogosphere is raising about Watson allegedly using evolution to justify racism. But at least he himself has jumped off that bandwagon, and now sees Watson as a perfectly reasonable man who is not being given due regard.
I can’t take the credit for this, of course, since Horvath did this on his own initiative. But I will say that this has been a fascinating journey to watch, and I consider this exchange to be time well spent.