Thursday, October 18, 2007
Why give famous jerks a platform?
James Watson (Jim to his mates, I presume) is a famous man. Jointly with Francis Crick he discovered the structure of the DNA. That's pretty cool as far as their contribution to scientific progress goes. The thing is, Watson was always kind of known to be a jerk, but people went out of their way to pretend that he wasn't, because of his contribution etc. Why a jerk? Well, Watson has the habit of using his fame to speak out on other issues outside his area of expertise, such as arguing that if a test capable of forecasting the sexual orientation of people came about, pregnant women should be permitted to abort fetuses likely to evolve into homosexuals. This comment, he says, was designed to demonstrate his support for women's right to choose to have abortions for any reasons and none. The question remains, tho, why did he pick 'gay' fetuses to make his point? He also made quite clear that he thinks the reasons for the problems in Africa have kinda to do with the lower intelligence of African peoples. It goes without saying that he since came to realise that he actually has been misunderstood. It's always a misunderstanding, of course it is. Here is the wording of the quote in the context of the interview. Your guess is as good as mine how there could be a misunderstanding... - So, the question is why one should give famous ageing jerks (he's 78 at the time of writing) a public platform to express their prejudices, particularly so when these prejudices are not even in areas of their scientific expertise.
So, I am very pleased that the British Science Museum recently withdrew an invitation to Dr Watson to speak there, on the grounds that 'Dr Watson has gone beyond the point of acceptable debate and we are, as a result, cancelling his talk'. Thumbs up to the Brits for not caving into Jim-co-discoverer-of-the-DNA fame, and for asking him to take a hike, and take his prejudices with him. What a shame that he lost the opportunity to promote his latest book to a British audience...
Addendum 19 Oct 2007: More good news. Cold Spring Harbor Labs, the international temple of genetics research has announced that it has suspended Dr Watson. Makes me wonder what they're going to do about the 'Watson School of Biological Sciences', tho. Incidentally, the School, of which Dr Watson is the Chancellor, hasn't yet graduated a single black student. You know, my thing was always that you better honour folks posthumously, just in case they lose the plot on the way.