First is the issue for freedom of speech in science. Science is above all a search for truth over expediency. Lots of us would naturally like the world to be a cosy place in which human beings are in charge, everyone is equal, all comes right in the end, a kind god watches over us, and we end up in heaven for ever. But it's not like that. In lots of ways the universe is absolutely not how we would like it to be. It takes science, and its rigorous (if imperfect) methods of accepting actual evidence, to overcome our desires for it to be otherwise.
Race and IQ is just one such issue. Life would be easier, society would be fairer, racism would be easier to fight against, if there were no differences. But thousands of studies (including twin studies, adoption studies and much more) have shown differences between races in all sorts of abilities. We don't know exactly why, we don't know precisely how dependent these differences are on testing methods, environment, and countless other variables, but in general James Watson was only telling the truth based on lots of evidence.
Like many other people, I disagree with many of the conclusions he bases on that evidence, but he should still be free to give his opinion. If a great scientist cannot speak the truth as he sees it, based on evidence, even if that opinion is unpalatable, then something is horribly wrong, and science is under threat.
Second is the issue for society, and especially for education. Surely a society based on denying a possible truth is not a healthy one. If there are such differences we need to be absolutely clear that they do not mean that some groups are intrinsically inferior, superior, or more or less deserving. If it is true that children of different races, by and large and on average, differ in their abilities, then we need an education system that encourages and develops all those varied abilities rather than one narrowly and rigidly based on glorifying the particular kind of intelligence and academic achievement that comes more easily to the dominant group.
We know that our educational system is failing black children, especially boys. Perhaps if we had a more realistic view of the breadth and variety of people's strengths and weaknesses we could have a better-fitting educational system. All children need to find things they are good at then be encouraged to develop their strengths to give confidence and exploit the best in them. I believe that by so rigidly denying racial differences between our kids we make that aim far harder.
I have never wanted to get into this intellectual minefield. I have seen too many good scientists pilloried and abused because they dared to talk about it. I have seen others twist and squirm and make ridiculous pronouncements to avoid even seeming to admit that there might be any racial differences in any ability. I resignedly dread the comments I know will follow this blog. But this small event has tipped me over the edge. If James Watson is to be silenced for talking about it then his fellow scientists ought to stand up and object. For what other topics might we find our lectures cancelled over next?
So I'm objecting. Let people talk freely about this difficult issue if they want to. It matters to us all.