Sunday, August 30, 2009

Nobel Laureate's Gift Creates Outcry

Some time, just because you've won the physics Nobel Prize, it doesn't mean your views on other issues will get the same level of acceptance. This is certainly true for William Shockley, the co-inventor of the transistor, and went on to win the Nobel Prize for that invention.

A gift of a piece of land after the death of Shockley's wife with the stipulation that the land be named after Shockley is creating an outcry from the community of Auburn, CA. This is due after the discovery of Shockley's belief in Eugenics later in his life.

From the late 1960s until his death, Mr. Shockley publicly pushed his belief that there was a strong genetic component to intelligence that forms along lines of race. He also suggested that some people of below-average IQ be paid if they agreed to voluntary sterilization.

During a 1974 television interview, he gave what he called his "standard statement" to a questioner who asked if he thought blacks were of inferior intelligence: "The major cause of the American Negro's intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racially genetic in origin and thus not remediable to a major degree by practical improvements in environment." In the segment, viewable on YouTube, he denied being a racist.

For many of us physicists, and certainly, it is true in my case, we respect the work that these prominent physicists did, but we certainly do not revere them the same way the general public do with many prominent figures. One can see in many instances where the quotes from these figures are often cited as if they are biblical truths. In fact, I've had "discussions" with a few crackpots in which they try to argue about the validity of something based on nothing more than a series of out-of-context quotations from various giants in physics.

Winning the Nobel Prize certainly allows for one's opinion to not only carry a bit of weight, but also gets the notoriety. Still, this particular case clearly highlights that these people can still make silly decisions.



Christine said...

The major causes the low intelligence are poor nutrition of children, neglect, poor prenatal care, poor nutrition of the mother, drugs, alcohol, smoking during pregnancy, and child abuse.

Pi-Guy said...

It's not unthinkable that there's a genetic contribution to intelligence. It's even obvious that intelligence is very much a function of genes: consider the difference between humans & dogs. One does differential calculus, the other doesn't, isn't very likely to, and this difference is genetic. It's not implausible that there's a difference in intelligence between so-called races as whole, statistical groups. The question is only if that difference happens to exist.

I don't know if it does exist, but I'm certainly not willing to make it politically unacceptable to ask the question; and I'm not willing to berate anyone for thinking that they've found an answer to that question. If the difference exists, I'd much rather know about it, and I'd rather know what the reason is for it. Pretending that social problems don't exist is not a good way to solve them.

ZapperZ said...

Actually, it IS unthinkable.

We talk about "intelligence" as if this can be measured. I've seen some so-called smart people at work (and I work with physicists), and they can be some of the dumbest walking neanderthals you'll ever meet!

IQ test? I don't think so. All I need to say is for someone to look at the history of IQ tests and see how it came into existence.

So then it comes down to the question on how one actually measures intelligence to determine who is intelligent and who isn't. And that is a whole can of worms in itself!

So to then turn around and use what is already a vague test and make SUCH A DEFINITIVE statement using such a weak foundation is something that is totally irrational.


Pi-Guy said...

No, it's not unthinkable. It's not an issue of having, in-hand, a definitive way to gauge intelligence. I didn't say that anyone knows how to measure it intrinsically.

I did say that it ought not be taboo to ask the question, or to think that one has figured out the answer by some line of reasoning. Answers come and go as wisdom and insight make progress. I certainly don't consider it racist if someone thinks, for instance, that Asians are smarter than Caucasians. That assertion may be demonstrably either wrong or uncertain; but that's not the same as it being a racist (chauvinist) way of seeing things, any more than it's inappropriate to say that if one is born without fingers, then a career as a pianist is problematic, at best. There are haves and there are have-nots; it's not generally about race per se.

ZapperZ said...

I disagree.

If you claim you want to study ghosts, you don't go out right away and want to study how ghosts can scare people. Rather you first established the existence of ghosts. After all, without that existence, the rest is MOOT!

Claiming that some race is smarter than another WITHOUT first establishing how one actually determine THAT, to me, is totally irrational. You are putting the cart before the horse. I might as well claim that causasians are more protufumoble than asians and african-amerians before establishing what "protufomoble" is and how I measure it.