Friday, October 26, 2007


So, there's a bit of a fervor over James Watson, one of the scientists who originally discovered the structure of DNA back in the day. Apparently, the 79 year old made some racist comments. As a result, he's basically been excommunicated. Speaking arrangements have been canceled, he's being not-so-gently forced from his job, etc.

I have mixed feelings about this, of course.

While I dislike racism as much as any desperately evenhanded white guy, I can't help but think that this obviously political ostracism is pretty silly.

People seem to forget that this guy is almost EIGHTY.

His racist comments aren't something I can take seriously. He's from another time, another culture. Hearing him be racist is sort of like hearing a old Japanese fisherman talk about leaving the first fish for the god of rain. It has no significant effect on what you think of mainstream Japanese culture, all it does is remind you where the culture is coming from.

In my mind, ostracism is brutal to the point of freakishly bizarre. He wasn't even trying to be mean. He was trying to be ethical and helpful, in his condescending old white guy way.

This guy devoted his whole life to making fairly good scientific advances, and then he says something dumb and out-of-touch about a political hot button and gets kicked out? Can you imagine how he feels? "Thanks for all the good times, but we hate you now. Get the fuck out!"

I feel ashamed for the British. They lost a chunk of my respect.

A better response would have been to play it condescending. Gloss over the comments with "ha, how out of touch..." Let everyone know that's not your culture anymore. This "BURN THE WITCH!" reaction is just silly.


Patrick said...

The scientific thing to do would be for the IMF to follow a development policy in some African countries that assumes equality in intelligence, and follows a policy in other countries that assumes whitey is smarter. See which gets higher GDP growth over the follow couple of years.

Anonymous said...

So... the scientific community should have a gentle and tolerant reaction to out-of-touch racism? That's a great strategy for geneticists who wish to continue receiving funding and institutions of higher education.

Seriously, Craig. We have no idea what these people are saying privately to him as they publicly scramble to achieve some distance.

If you're a scientist and you're out of touch enough with the modern world to cross those lines, you should have been ousted from your job ages ago.

And where do we draw the line at our tolerance? Let's say he was the vice president in charge of human resources at a company where your daughter worked... or your wife. Let's say he routinely made racist and sexist comments. Let's say he gave a young female employee a box of expensive chocolates. Because he's in his fifties and "from a different era" do we let his racism and sexism slide too?

And should governments have the same lenient policy? Oh, you're old and out of touch. Go ahead and continue to write policy based upon your out of date racist and sexist ideology. Yeah, that's done wonders for the world.

Anonymous said...

...and slightly more cogently:

You said it yourself, "His racist comments aren't something I can take seriously."

James Watson's job was to talk about seriously things in scientific and educational environments. If you can't take what he says seriously... he's not in a position to be doing his job anymore.

Craig Perko said...

Perhaps so, but not with such brutality.