I See Psychology… Everywhere

Back after a long hiatus

Well, I’m trying to get back to the blog.  Let’s start with an interesting couple of cases right in the news.  Seems a couple of prominent people being recommended for termination for some offensive comments.

James Watson (as in Watson & Crick) is one of the offenders:

The Sunday Times newspaper printed an interview with Watson in which he was quoted as saying 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.”


The newspaper also quoted Watson as saying people should not discriminate on the basis of color, because “there are many people of color who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level.”

Then Barack Obama has recommended canning the head of voting rights for the DoJ for his comments:

“That’s a shame, you know creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance,” Tanner said, according to video posted on YouTube. “Of course, that also ties into the racial aspect because our society is such that minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.

“There are inequities in health care. There are a variety of inequities in this country, and so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities. Just the math is such as that,” Tanner said.


“Such comments are patently erroneous, offensive and dangerous, and they are especially troubling coming from the federal official charged with protecting voting rights in this country,” Obama wrote.

We’ve been discussing ambiguous statements in my prejudice seminar this semester, and I’ve asked my students to comment.  I find Watson’s comments more egregious, but that may be because I think someone else could say what Tanner did with less outrage.  They could be taken to be sympathetic to health disparities, IMHO.

Watson’s statements are also interesting in light of an article (my Michael Hogg) I just got today arguing that the atrophy of the frontal lobe in older people is partly responsible for their decline in self-regulatory capacity.  As a result, people may say offensive things that, under better circumstances, they would have suppressed.  I’m never sure how much to let that matter, but we’ve seen the decline in self-regulation in prominent cases resulting from alcohol (see Mel Gibson) and frustration (see Michael Richards), among other things.


19 October 2007 Posted by | Stereotyping, Prejudice, & Discrimination | 2 Comments