Saturday, 27 October 2007

Science and political (un)correctness

Within a space of a week three news item have hit me. The first was the enormous PC based pressure and attack on James Watson for his remarks on Africa and its state of affairs. Quoted totally out of context (as I have been unable to find the whole interview) the offending Watson statement was:
I am 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.

First Watson talks in the UK were cancelled, then his Institution, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory forced him to resign (here are the CSHL and Watson's official announcements).
But I urge you to look at the statements, even as they are taken out of context (and I am pretty sure that whoever picked them up, did pick the worst parts of the whole viewpoint), not the conditionals and caveats. So what: statement that some people (as measurements say) might be less intelligent than others and that our policies should reflect this?
But we are doing it everyday. What and how we teach children in schools has to be based on assumption of the differences in capability to absorb and use information. Trying to teach first graders straight university level science would result in ... catastrophe. But suggesting that the problem might be more general is racism.
Of course, the fact that 95% of NBA players are black has nothing to do with racism. Racism works only one way.

The second piece of news was the massacre of gorillas by some African militia. Apparently to train themselves, for shooting practice, they have killed some tens of the great apes. For fun. In a recent report I have read that 1/3 of the primate population is in danger, directly because of human activity. Now, I am going to be racist again: think who is organizing the preservation areas and trying to save the apes, and who is using them as targets (good ones: they move, but they won't shoot back!)

The third piece of news is a statement by an UN expert, Jean Ziegler (the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food), who has stated that
It is a crime against humanity to convert agricultural productive soil into soil which produces food stuff that will be burned into biofuel.

Ziegler claims that all causes of hunger are man-made, it’s a problem of access, not overpopulation or underproduction, and can be changed by human decision.
He noted that from 1972 to 2002, the number of gravely undernourished people in Africa increased from 81 million to 202 million, and every day hundreds of Africans “take to the sea” fleeing from hunger.

He called on the UN Human Rights Council “to declare a new human right” to protect those who flee from hunger.

The right to food is defined as the right to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear.

When we look at the statement above we can hardly disagree. Or can we? Is the right applicable regardless of the size of human population? How can we be sure of adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people, when the density of these people has increased (since beginning of XX Century) more than 30 times? Should we not look at the possibility that a change in the culture would be advisable? That the "laws" should have physical possibility of being implemented?

Ziegler calls for a five year ban on production of biofuels. Perhaps a five year `restraint' on human population growth in some places would be more sensible? To take care of the people who live there today and to take care of the environment for their future descendants?

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