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James Watson ‘16% black’ claim

The saga of James Watson has taken a strange twist. Slated recently for saying of Africa “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really”, it turns out Watson is himself 16% black.

Analysis of his genome, produced recently as part of the trend for celebrity sequencing, reveals 16% of his genes are from an ancestor of African descent, according to reports in UK newspapers (Times, Independent).

“This level is what you would expect in someone who had a great-grandparent who was African. It was very surprising to get this result for Jim,” says Kari Stefansson of deCODE Genetics which carried out the analysis (both stories carry this quote).

What analysis they carried out isn’t clear. There is no immediately obvious publication or press release that this is pinned to. A figure of “16% black” is also pretty precise. Personally I’d like some more information on exactly how they reached this figure. While some bloggers are celebrating this perceived comeuppance others are, like me, not convinced.


  1. Report this comment

    Ruchira said:

    I am not celebrating anything. I am sounding a warning bell that to make sweeping generalizations about human worth based on race, which can be a fuzzy idea in itself, is a dangerous and harmful idea.

    I really couldn’t care less whether Watson is 1/8, 1/4 or 1/100 part black, white, brown or yellow. He may be the one who seems to care.

  2. Report this comment

    Chris Gunter said:

    I find the wide reporting of this story quite disturbing, with no actual description of the analysis that was done. As far as I can tell, the original source is this blog:

    and the title “file under hearsay” should be heeded! But it appears major newspapers are reporting the story without checking any further.

    What does that say about how DNA information will be used and interpreted for any one of us? This is not something that scientists, reporters, or editors should be sloppy about!

  3. Report this comment

    Not surprised said:

    I am not surprised. With many blacks passing as whites back then i can understand. This must come as a shock to him. Someone in his family has a lot of explaining to do. This must be one of the best kept secret in his family. I shows that environmental factors has a great deal to do with personal achievement.

  4. Report this comment

    Shi V. Liu said:

    Similarity does not mean sharing of a common ancestry!

    Watson’s racism view was based on his so-called “science” which was inherited from Darwin that all life on earth came from a last common ancestor cell.

    However, this view is totally wrong. More than likely, life has originated from different acellular ancestors. Different races of human beings might even came from different non-human ancestors.

    Thus, it is time to re-examine the ‘science’ of the Darwinian evolution and establish a correct view on life origin and human differences.

    Shi V. Liu

    For more articles on my views on evolution, please visit

  5. Report this comment

    Nick Papanikolaou said:

    None of this is surprising: The combined legacy of Naziism and Eugenics here in the US and in Europe (for example in the UK and Sweden)are still alive and well hidden within the collective uncoscious of these societies. The greater harm, though, lies in the lack of serious studies that could connect population variation and disease susceptibility and uncover true genetic influences on why Greeks (as a population that interbreeds more frequently among themesleves than, say with Germans or Swedes) have higher incidences of certain syndromes.

    Angloamerican genetic determinism is the half brother of Lysenkoism, the other extreme that floursihed in Stalinist times.

  6. Report this comment

    Gerhard Schutte said:

    If one can be 16% “black”, then there must be some 100% ‘black" around. That is a myth of course. 16% “African” doesn’t work either because people from Africa are genetically extremely diverse. The most this sequencing can do is to point to a specific population in a certain geographical area, which may happen to be in Africa. When will ‘scientists’ wake up to the socially constructed, thus totally relative, if not arbitrary, character of ‘race’?

  7. Report this comment

    Rohilla said:

    I agree with Not surprised’s comment that environmental factors do play a role as been taught in basic biology that Phenotype (intelligence in this case) = Genotype (as James Watson says) + Enviroment (as Not surprised adds) + interaction of Genotype and Environment.

    So each of these factor is important to shine as an intelligent person.

  8. Report this comment

    chidi g osuagwu said:


    One should go back and read the press release announcing Prof Watson’s retirement. He made what seemed to me an ackward, and uncalled for, effort to trace his ancestory from Scoland etc. The level of implied self-pity in that statement aslo seemed strange. The tragically is that racism can force a greatest scientist and public figure like James Watson into apparent self-denial, invoking the strange ‘watsonomics’ to explain a baffling African economic dilenma.

  9. Report this comment

    Steve Sailer said:

    Simple arithmetic suggests that this story is likely mostly another one of the errors that racial admixture testing companies are notorious for. If you look the first half dozen pages of Watson’s autobiography, Avoid Boring People, you’ll see photos of his mother, father, and maternal grandmother, all of whom look like average white people.

    His mother’s side of the family were recent immigrants from the British Isles, so if they were 100% white, as seems likely, then Watson’s father would have to have been 50% nonwhite for Watson to be 25% nonwhite. His father’s side of the family, however, was quite socially fashionable and prosperous for several generations, and there’s no evidence that they ever suffered racial discrimination for being highly nonwhite. For example, his paternal grandfather was a stockbroker who married an heiress.

    Similarly, Watson lists the names of his father’s three brothers and his paternal grandfather’s four brothers, so it’s unlikely that either one engaged in passing from black to white, since that typically required abandoning family connections, since some relatives would look black. Philip Roth’s novel “The Human Stain” has a lot of useful detail to help you understand the wrenching mechanics of passing, and they aren’t compatible with Watson’s family history.

  10. Report this comment

    Shi V. Liu said:

    Don’t Let Pseudo-Science Make Wrong Legal Judgment

    As I have pointed out in 1991 that the Darwinian view on the origin and evolution of life is fundamentally wrong. From my view of multiple independent origins of life from acellular ancestors and then parallel evolution of life forms, it is quite likely that similar life forms can be found without resort to an interpretation of sharing any phylogenetic common ancestor.

    I have particularly argued that human being as a taxonomical collection of similar higher level organisms is more likely originated from different non-human ancestors than from a common human ancestor.

    Thus, please do not reach a wrong legal conclusion based on a pseudo-science that similarity means common ancestry. If we believe that this common-origin and one-line evolution is true then we all will all some kind of “cross-breeding” charge either by ourselves or by our very recent ancestors because it will be found we, as human beings, are share more genetic similarities than differences even though we have quite different in skin colors.

    It is totally ironic that the life of a father of DNA was ruined by his DNA genetics-based racism view of human evolution from primitive black to advanced white and then would be accused of being a descendant of black-white mixing ancestor.

    Should we allow such Darwin-seeded pseudo-science to ruin all of our life?

    Shi V. Liu

    For more articles on my views on evolution, please visit

  11. Report this comment

    Shi V. Liu said:

    The Double Tragedy: An Outsider’s View on the Ruin of the Father of DNA

    By Shi V. Liu

    A preview of the upcoming (electronic) book from Truthfinding Cyberpress (

    In a non-conservative replication fashion, this popular science book will introduce the non-genetic side of heredity – epigenetics – and illuminate how nurture can change the nature of DNA and thus afford different lives to even genetically ‘identical’ lives. Based on a revolutionary new biology, the deep root for the formation of some non-scientific views and even racism opinions in the mind of the Father of DNA will be explored. In the end, James Watson may be acquitted from the accusation of being a racist descendant of white-dominated ‘cross-breeding’ over black but his over-dominance on science with some unscientific views should be remembered as a big lesson for humanity.

  12. Report this comment

    Dov Henis said:

    Incompatible Cultural Phenotypeness Separate Human Groups, Not Intelligence

    (Oct 31 2007, in PhysOrg Forum)

    A. Watson Retires From Cold Spring Harbor Lab, widely condemned after The Sunday Times quoted him on 14 October as saying 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.” Watson subsequently apologized, but the damage had been done…" end quote

    B. Culture And Intelligence—?cq=1&p=247

    The core (wordnet.princeton) definition of “intelligence” is “the ability to comprehend, to understand and profit from experience”. These surviving abilities are different for the different phenotypes within a genotype, therefore each phenotype has its own meaning of “intelligence”.

    Intelligence is to culture approximately as essential amino acids are to proteins. Culture evolves in response to circumstances only by use of intelligence and to the extent and scope feasible by the extent and scope of intelligence.

    C. It’s Culture, Not Intelligence, Watson…

    Watson’s statement is not backed by data and is scientifically incorrect. It could have been made by a chemist but not by a biologist. Intelligence and Culture are Biology, not chemistry.

    A modern updated biologist can state that the Curtain that seperates between USA, China, Russia, Muslim world etc., is the Phenotypic Cultural Curtain, the primary darwinian striving of each phenotype to survive at all costs…

    But it shall come to pass one day that humans will understand their biological nature and biological environments and cooperate rather than fight for survival…

    Dov Henis

  13. Report this comment

    Biju Dharmapalan said:

    The issue of racial discrimination based on genetic analyses has created a new wave of ideological war fare. Seeing every aspect of life through the lens of genomics is not good for human kind.The comment made by the Mr Watson that whites are more superior than Africans itself not warrented.Now comes the discovery that Watsons genome contains 16% similarity to Africans.It seems the scientific community has no direction.They are taking us to the prehistoric times when racial discrimination was more.Since all of us have the genetic make up made of AGTC its almost certain that there will be probalities of similarity between different communities.Its all seems that the personalised genome sequencing we are propagating will destroy the human species instead of the welfare projected

  14. Report this comment

    Shi V. Liu said:

    Small Personal Genomes Reveal Big Social Problems

    When human knowledge on human origin and evolution was just about skin-deep the way-simplified and far-fetched common-origin and black-to-white Darwinian evolution was not only easy to be accepted but also made a lot of ‘sense’, especially to those racists.

    However, when the genomes of each ‘race’ are compared now, especially at the very personal level of some highly respected individuals with some known bias, then the screening of some small personal genomes just reveal some big social problems.

    I predict that the shameful retirement of James Watson due to his incorrect genetic view on intelligence and the illogical accusation of his ancestor’s ‘cross-breeding’ due to mainstream’s mistaken dogma of similarity = common origin will lead people to appreciate some great revolution already taken place in biology. This NEW BIOLOGY will turn the current life ‘science’ upside-down and also force people to think deeper many other social problems of human society besides just the skin color and brain intelligence.

    Shi V. Liu

  15. Report this comment

    Swastik Phulera said:

    Why are we creating such a fuss about a scientist.Just because he made some remarks towards a fellow community based on his scientific findings(although the data might not be full).

    Instead of just targetting this news just for his remarks on blacks why shouldnt we ponder about the why’s and how’s of the news

  16. Report this comment

    Claudia Irianni Manzini said:

    To Nature Blogs.

    Dear Sirs,

    I have sent an article published in “Independent” and in “The Times”, among others newspapers from the U.K., which informs about Dr. Watson’s genome . Dr. Watson who was co-Nobel Prize (l962) winner has been one of the few who agreed to designe his complete genome map in the “Human Genome Project” (so far only 3 human beings have agreed to do it). For this feat and for the fact that he is a celebrity, he has received a considerable amount of money but his brilliant genome betrayed him.

    Dr. Watson declared that black people were intellectually inferior. After that he lost his post in the “Lab” (place where he had worked in the U.S.A.) besides, he was rejected to comment his last book in London (he had travelled there to promote his last publishing); but his origins “roots” are revealed coming from a highest complexity pilot centre in Iceland.

    It could be that Dr. Watson “hates himself” and his non recognition of himself traumatizes him, as it has happened to many closely genetically peoples but “apparently culturally apart” such as the ex Yugoeslavian, and others. His unreasonable declaration might have several reasons which I will expose in the following lines or at least my own interpretation of them .if there are one logical.

    The fact that Dr. Watson has allowed to put his genome in the internet for cientific disposal results in a boomerang towards his assertions of the black people inferiority.

    His desoxirribonucleico acid of bases pairs chain shows that he would be 16% African or more than 1/8, that is to say, as he would have a totally black great grand father. We have to consider that the American black population have a 25% to 30% modified genes coming from Europe. And this fact confirms the experimental trial of Americans and German women’sons and daughters have similar or superior intelectual quotation than the rest of the German people or the same than the Anglosaxon Americans . ( I am referring here to American soldiers – black or white- who got paired to German women during the second world war).

    Moreover, this stigmatization brings us to recall the Jewish people who were considered as blacks (schwarz) by the Germans. They were featured with frizzy hair, thick and fallen lips, dark skin, and their famous wide and convex nose. They were ridiculed and denigrated by the nazy songs, however the Jewish people were and are cultured, educated, civilized, literate, intelligent and learning spreading people, a great people who gave 160 Nobel prizes, in all the areas, to humanity.

    This great people (the Jews) have certain markers East Africans haplotypes like for example: 4S (45% of frequency in Ethiopians) derived from 4H Abisinian through a” SNP” –single nucleotide polimorfism- (25 to 30% of this haplotype 4S in Ashkenazim); others are Mediterranean haplotypes and others Asian haplotypes, Also the motherly mitocondrial DNA acquired during the Big Diaspora in the European East and others lands. . Perhaps Dr. Watson who is an American Anglosaxon Christian, has some closely jewish ancestor that he would be unaware of, to whom he would have to be proud of instead of asserting a concept which is unknown to the Genetic Science of today.

    Science places the man who left from an African human family and spread through the Nile by migrations towards the sea borders all over the wide world space. Men will become ,with the globalization, a big family in the future. Maybe the practicality of the Europeans, the sagacity of the Africans and the abstraction as well the matematicaly mind of the Asians, will give us a new man who will not be black nor white but “Human”, and that way the great maker approaches and says as Einstein would say in his famous phrase:”God does not play dice”.

    This is hopeful. Watson’s news of his DNA was informed in many medias (The New York Yimes 12/12/2007; in Nature magazines’ blogs and in many other scientific magazinnes). I think this is a matter to be published in newspapers and not in the web only. I leave you a web page to read for further information. :

    Thank you.

    Claudia Inés Irianni Cohen Manzini, I´m Psicografologa ; ( my husband is Dr. in Biochemistry)

    Buenos Aires


  17. Report this comment

    Richard said:

    Interesting reading these comments.

    I don’t know what “Psicografologa” is but I presume it has something to do with psychology? Hence the comment that "Dr. Watson “hates himself” and his non recognition of himself traumatizes him".

    In which case Madam Claudia, I hope you are suitably sympathetic and could offer Dr Watson some counseling, so that he could eventually “recognize himself”? One way perhaps to go about this is to make him believe that he is 100% African and then gradually bring him to a state of 16% African-ness.

    How exactly “His desoxirribonucleico acid of bases pairs chain shows that he would be 16% African”, I am not sure. Can you tell from a persons DNA whether a person is “African” or “White”? If that be the case then is there a genetic basis for race?

    Whereas I think that the question of whether Dr Watson has African blood or not is irrelevant, I feel that if any statement, however seemingly outrageous, be made by someone purporting to have a scientific basis, then it should be challenged on scientific grounds and not on grounds of ideology. I am talking about Dr Watson’s comments on intelligence.

    There is strong scientific evidence that human evolution is continuing and is vigorous and the most rapidly evolving organ is the human brain. (University of Chicago Medical Center (2005, September 9). University Of Chicago Researchers Find Human Brain Still Evolving.) (Accelerated evolution of brain genes in the descent of humans. Bruce Lahn Howard Hughes Medical Institute).

    Intelligence, though it doesn’t seem to be the result of a single gene, undoubtedly gives an evolutionary advantage to a species. Intelligence is the basis for our prevailing and dominating over other species, including Neanderthal’s and Homo Erectus, with whom Homo Sapiens co-existed in Europe and Australia respectively.

    Darwin’s theory of evolution, which has strong scientific evidence, theorises that species evolve from pre-existing species. If this be the case and coupled with the evidence that homo sapiens, and specially the Homo Sapien brains, are rapidly evolving, then there would a strong possibility that different populations, geographically isolated from each other, would continue evolving at different rates. Thus it could be that some populations maybe more or less intelligent than another.

    That all men are created equal is an ideology that has little support with even casual observation.

    Looking into the future, as our evolution is continuing, there will come a time, if we survive long enough as a species, when we will have evolved into a species that would be more intelligent than our present one. We could even force the pace of this evolution with our growing knowledge of the mechanisms of genetics.

    Dogs and horses are bred for various physical characteristics and for intelligence, why not humans?

  18. Report this comment

    Dov Henis said:

    More On Watson And Racism

    Racism Is Racism Is Racism

    A. On Watson And Racism

    B. Dialogue

    (1) J(another forum):

    “East Asians and Blacks consistently fall at two ends of a continuum with Whites intermediate”

    (2) I replied:

    A continuum ???

    Intelligence, like every “specific” physical property (f.e. specific weight or specific heat etc.,) is a specific cultural phenotype characteristic. Plain science….

    The term “A continuum” in our this context is, IMO, indicative of an innate racist approach.

    Specific is specific is specific per each cultural phenotype. Scientifically there cannot be a “continuum of specifics”. Each specific is specific. Plain and simple…

    (3) J:

    The information on maturation rates is summarised from ‘Rushton, J. P., & Jensen, A. R. (2005). Thirty years of research on race differences in cognitive ability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11, 235-294.’ You can download the paper from the following site:

    C. Racism Is Racism Is Racism

    When J.P.Rushton, even with ‘understanding’ of E.O.Wilson, spends thirty years of research on RACE DIFFERENCES in cognitive ability or in any other ability, this is plain and simple RACISM and also plain and simple pre-Copernicus science:

    – 21st century life sciences is genetics.

    – Genetics is evolution of genes.

    – Evolution of genes is driven and directed by culture.

    – Human cultures are phenotypic groups within the human genotype.

    – Extents of an ability are comparable WITHIN a single cultural phenotype, measured with the

    specific phenotype cultural toolings.

    – Extents of an ability in two or more cultural phenotypes are NOT COMPARABLE by measuring with

    one cultural tooling. This is simply not scientific…

    Dov Henis

    (A DH Comment From The 22nd Century)—?cq=1

  19. Report this comment

    True Freethinker said:

    I know it’s been a long time but I have to correct an error in one of the comments just in case anyone else stumbles across this article and reads the related comments.

    On December 31, 2007, Claudia Irianni Manzini posted a comment which included the line “Perhaps Dr. Watson who is an American Anglosaxon Christian”. Dr. Watson is in fact an Atheist, not a Christian. Dr. Watson’s Atheism has often been used by outspoken Atheists as part of their claims of Intellectual Supremacism for Atheists against religious believers, particularly Christians.

    Christians, like anyone else, are far from perfect. However it is disingenuous to blame Christians for the sins of Atheists as well their own.

  20. Report this comment

    Tattoo removal said:

    The problem of racial discrimination primarily based on genetic analyses has produced a new wave of ideological war fare.

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