the subjectivity of science

June 2, 2008 at 7:57 pm (anti-oppression, anti-racism)

i know that neither religion or science are inherently objective.  and the claims that science is objective and protectd from being harmful to people has been sorely disproved in the 20th century.   i think that we have to ask ourselves: what is intelligence?  what factors allow us to observe and quantify this ‘intelligence’?  why do we value this intelligence?  from where did our ideas of intelligence arise?  what were the goals of those people who utlized ideas of intelligence?  who (interms of individuals and social groups) are most empowered by the ideas of intelligence?  who are most disempowered by the ideas of intelligence?

what does it means to be objective in deciding who is intelligent and why are they are intelligent?

A conversation between The Root Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Nobel laureate and DNA pioneer James Watson about race and genetics, Jewish intelligence, blacks and basketball and Watson’s African roots.

and the henry louis gates recent article on the root: the science of racism

Having spent the past three decades studying racist discourse in the West (starting with my Ph.D. dissertation on the Enlightenment), I know that such conclusions—say, about an entity called “Jewish intelligence”—would deleteriously affect me as a black person because it would reinforce stereotypes about Jewish people being genetically superior to us, and that such a conclusion would reinforce stereotypes about black people being inherently less intelligent than other members of the human community. If such differences in intelligence were purported to have a genetic basis, as David Duke proclaimed on his Web site with such naked glee, all of the social intervention in the world could have only so much effect. (Head Start? Why bother, when nature is to blame.) Sooner or later, in a time of increasing economic scarcity, members of these supposedly “different” or “lesser” ethnic groups or genetic populations could very well find their life possibilities limited and perhaps even regulated. Who among us can doubt that this would be true?

Likewise, I worry even more that Dr. Watson confessed to me that “we shouldn’t expect that different persons have equal intelligence, because we don’t know that. And people say that these should be the same [that is, that all human beings, that all members of different “racial” groups, should have the same basic range and potential for development of intelligence genetically]. I think the answer is we don’t know.” And later, he remarked in passing that “we’re not all the same,” by which he meant genetically. Rest assured that in the very near future, some scientist somewhere will claim to have proven this through our genes, and that claim will be deeply problematic for the future development of black people in American society.

As I drove away from Cold Harbor, I realized that my conversation with Dr. Watson only confirmed something I already, with great trepidation, have come to believe: That the last great battle over racism will be fought not over access to a lunch counter, or a hotel room, or to the right to vote, or even the right to occupy the White House; it will be fought in a laboratory, in a test tube, under a microscope, in our genome, on the battleground of our DNA.  It is here where we, as a society, will rank and interpret our genetic difference.


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