18 October 2007, 09:39
I wrote this in facebook and thought I’d paste it here for non-facebookers.
Before I start, my neighbour Lou in halls alerted me to this so some credit to her if anyone actually enjoys reading this. OK, for those of you not obsessed with/interested in genetics, James Watson is credited as one of the key players in the discovery that the molecule of inheritance is a double helix; DNA. Along with Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin (whose work isn’t always credited as it should be – she died mid-study).
So he’s a bit of a celebrity and rightly so in my view – I’m beginning to eke out a living from his work even 50 or so years later, and so are many others – the field is expanding fast.
See this for a general idea of Mr Watson’s exploits. So he’s not what you might expect entirely, and to be honest, at 79, I’d compare him to Prince Philip if no one else. He opens his mouth and just says things – fair play to him, in some ways, but you can’t always get away with it! And rightly so; some things just shouldn’t be said, truth or no.
So, recently, he’s said re: Africa/Africans “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.” and “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”
That second one being especially sharp.
Now, this is profoundly stupid, in my mind. I have no idea how much truth is in these statements but it’s kind of irrelevant. EVEN IF it is true to the extent of, say, ‘people of pure African lineage have gene expression which differs slightly from our own during development meaning the brain operates in a way that makes the learning experience different throughout life, from those of other ethnicity’ – I’ve made that up to illustrate a point.
EVEN IF that were true, why say it? In public?
I’m not saying you should be able to say whatever horrible things about whoever you like in private, but this is really silly.
At a time where science is suffering in support, especially in America, people need to feel like science is on their side, that it works for them, that it’s a force for good and driving us all forwards, not the opposite! This will attract criticism even where it is not due. Even if there is a stupid gene or something like that, there is no point throwing it into the public forum whilst the general public’s grasp of genetics in every day life is limited – hopefully this will change in time.
It is silly to take offence at a gene. If, as he’s said, there’s a gene for liver cancer – no one’s offended by that. But a gene for being ugly/stupid/intelligent/evil/gay – people take offense to that, because they’re sensitive issues. But there’s really no point.
STILL that doesn’t mean we should go around spouting stuff like Mr. Watson does. He’s always been totally un-PC but this does no one any favours, especially us geneticists.
Me, 29 October
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7052416.stmA bit of follow-up 🙂
No name wrote (06 December):
mario george wrote (26 March):
The comment quoted is out of context. In any event Watson’s comments were made to reflect a more incomplete understanding of the evolution in Genetics (research)that would take place in micro and nano technologies and need to be considered in that light.