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Memory and old age


My son Rufus, memory and IQ
James Watson Scientist
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Very hard for things to get into his long-term memory, once there they can be recalled and - so long-term memory, if it get there, is good, but his ability to handle lots of facts coming simultaneously, certainly shown by - he doesn't get any pleasure from what gives me great pleasure, sort of Beethoven's sonatas, things which- or later Prokofiev or something, where they've very subtle and you hear lots of sounds coming at you fast. It's not clear the brain can actually handle it. It becomes blurred. It's certainly important to know, because it's how you try and compensate for these limitations. In Rufus's case, he didn't want to go to school 'cause he couldn't do the work. We thought, you know, it was something much more complicated - he didn't want to go to school 'cause he felt he'd be rejected, etc. No, he just didn't want to be in a situation where he couldn't perform. And as he got older, that became harder for him to see. So - so I've always, when I was young my IQ was not that of a genius or anything, so I thought I would never, you know, be a highly successful academic though I wanted to be one. I think I took sort of security in the fact that biologists seemed to be a lot dumber than theoretical physicists. And so I was going into a field where you didn't have to be as bright. With time, I think my teachers thought I was all bright, even though I didn't feel it. So I'm sure if I had to take an IQ test, I wouldn't do very well, but I wasn't very good in actual visual things, turning things upside down and seeing symmetry, which you could say, well, how did you ever get the DNA thing? Well, the answer is Francis. He had the, you know, thought symmetry, whereas my strengths lay in reading comprehension. I could, you know, I seem to do that the fastest in my school, which is more a test that a girl does better. And then, you know, I learned that the reason why the IQs of boys and girls are the same when we have different strengths and weaknesses is they balance the test by giving you a combination of tests where girls do well and men do well. And so it can always be that way, but it doesn't of course tell you whether you would be good at a given field. So IQ is just a - and because boys develop earlier, you could argue that boys, I mean, the boys develop later, that you shouldn't compare a 12-year-old girl with a 12-year-old boy, you should compare a, you know, a 12-year-old boy with an 11-year-old girl because the girls develop sooner or something like that. If you kept tests with the same proportions boys who then have a slightly higher IQ, not much difference, but it's arbitrary to start with. You really have to look at the components before you want to predict people.

American molecular biologist James Dewey Watson is probably best known for discovering the structure of DNA for which he was jointly awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins. His long career has seen him teaching at Harvard and Caltech, and taking over the directorship of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. From 1988 to 1992, James Watson was head of the Human Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health. His current research focuses on the study of cancer.

Listeners: Walter Gratzer Martin Raff

Walter Gratzer is Emeritus Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at King's College London, and was for most of his research career a member of the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council. He is the author of several books on popular science. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard and has known Jim Watson since that time

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 5 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: November 2008 and October 2009

Date story went live: 18 June 2010