A friend of mine told me some few years ago, that one day, in one of Western Europe’s topmost institutions of higher learning, he came upon an uneasy calm in a lecture theatre. There, he had been part of a course from the beginning up to that point. Apparently, the topics being treated were now to switch to what everyone now knows to be a hot-button topic…or call it ‘hot potatoes’, if you will.
The class was now ready to start talking about ‘the Evolution of the Human Species’. My friend was black, and was about the only black in the lecture theatre. This was not a problem.
The problem was that, in discussing a topic like “The Evolution of the Human Species”, there were many things that would be said that would sound offensive to my friend, and would make all others present uncomfortable… As you may imagine, things like, ‘Where do human beings come from? And why do some appear less capable than others’?… would ring throughout, be they true or false. (In case you are wondering, the most current explanation for where human beings come from is “The Out of Africa Theory”… Hold that…and look it up if it interests you…)
Never mind. But my friend said he was really uncomfortable, not because he would be embarrassed by what others might consider his place (as a black person) in the evolution of the human species, but rather that he felt that his presence there was an obstacle to the ability of other people to freely learn about what they cared.
Revived Controversy by Jim Watson
This past week, celebrated biologist James D. Watson was in the news again, as it emerged that he has refused to walk back claims he made a little over a decade ago that many people considered ‘racist’.
For starters, Mr. Watson would go down history as one of the few scientists with the most enduring legacies in 20th century science. As history would remember it, Jim Watson, along with the late British biologist Francis Crick deciphered the structure of the DNA—the chemical blueprint for all things dead or alive—and together with Maurice Wilkins, another British biologist, received the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material”.
Such is Jim Watson’s height in the history of science…
But in 2007, while on a book tour in Europe to promote his memoir “Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science”, Jim Watson, now 90 years, remarked (in a transcript widely published afterwards) that, he was…
“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”, and I know that this “hot potato” is going to be difficult to address. His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”. He says that you should not discriminate on the basis of colour, because “there are many people of colour who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level”. He writes that “there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so…”
While Jim Watson apologized for the remarks following the controversy that it ignited back in 2007, news from this past week suggested that he remains resolute in his beliefs…sticking to his guns.
The Sad truth
Believe it or not, and however extreme you consider Jim Watson’s views to be, he is not alone. There are many people who hold the same views as him. Only that they feel barred by the societal pressures to remain—what some may call—“politically correct”, by not going public.
But the irony of the remarks by Jim Watson, to the effect that Africans are less intelligent because of their genetics, is that he is likely to find validation for his claims in the least suspected of places—among Africans themselves.
I can almost guarantee—and I am absolutely persuaded—that if you walk through the city streets of any African country south of the Sahara today, and have a black journalist (not white, for obvious reasons) ask ‘everyday people’ whether they think white people are more intelligent than blacks, the odds will be overwhelmingly in favor of Jim Watson. The verdict, if it ever gets returned, will likely be that the overwhelming majority will say, “Yes, the whites are more intelligent”…
You want to know why? Just wait for it…
If you listen to radio regularly and religiously as I do—and I mean “good radio”—you are likely to have heard before, many citizens of Africa—including regular people on the streets—asking if their own leaders have never been to Europe and elsewhere before. In asking this question, they are suggesting why it appears as though their leaders are inherently incapable of implementing all the good stuff they see in the West on their travels, upon their return home. Why the wealthiest continent on Earth, with the most natural resources, remains extremely poor remains a mystery, and many people like to think that it all comes down to a lack of intelligence to be able to utilize those resources. Because, as it turns out, it is not natural resources that develop a nation; it is its people, the human resources.
The Case For A Research Fund
In modern history, the Chinese are widely believed to have the singular distinction for plotting and executing one of the most spectacular rises—from poverty to wealth—of any developing nation. As the story goes, the Chinese did this by sending their ‘best and brightest people’, in droves, to the West, the United States in particular, to study how to become a scientific powerhouse. In the years since, it has become clear that this strategy has paid off greatly. But this is only because their Western-educated returnees are sufficiently tooled with all the resources they need to implement the scientific and technological transformation required. While funding for scientific research has been tailing-off in some parts of the West in recent years, Chinese funding for research is on the rise… and it’s only a matter of time that the Chinese will greatly upset the world regarding “who is who” in global science. Many believe it might take a while…but they are sure, too, there is no question that that future will be upon us.
In Africa on the other hand, a limited number of governments send their citizens to the West to study, and when they return, they go back to empty laboratories and offices. No tools and resources to work with. In effect, these returnees only go back to collect more salaries for advancing in their qualifications, while not being provided with the conditions and tools to apply their new, cutting-edge knowledge.
In Ghana, I know many Western-educated scientists firsthand who returned home to basically “vegetate”… And I am talking about some of the best-trained people you can ever find on Earth, including some who, after their doctoral training abroad, even went on to receive post-doctoral training in places such as Harvard University… Go figure what they are about now… Zero. Zilch. Nil.
In other words, where is the ‘Scientific Research Fund’ for Ghanaian scientists to do innovative research? Where is the damn fund?
No one develops a nation with his mouth, using voodoo statistics and economics… and little things that have no foundation in science or fact. It has never happened, and never will.
While I hope that Jim Watson is wrong in his views about the intellectual capabilities of Africans, I am pretty certain that unless Africans start electing proper political leaders who understand what really is at stake, and the citizenry refrain from acting as cheerleaders for visionless and corrupt leaders just to satisfy their own little stomachs, Jim Watson’s views—no matter how unpalatable they seem—will outlive him, and the stereotype his opinions seek to entrench will be validated by Africans themselves, but no other people.
It’s a sad feeling… and time is running out for real change, and rather quickly, too.