Friday, 19 October 2007

Move Along, Nothing To See Here

Whatever the reasoning behind the statements that have led to the cancellation o f Prof. James Watson's UK book tour, they are not science.

Quotations from the co-discoverer of DNA's double helix structure, reproduced in last week's Sunday Times1, have caused a furore on a scale not seen in many years. The cancellation of an appearance at London's Science Museum has been followed by his suspension as chancellor of a US research institution2 and his return to the US.

Watson's history of controversial statements:


"If you are really stupid, I would call that a disease...The lower 10 per cent who really have difficulty, even in elementary school, what's the cause of it? A lot of people would like to say, 'Well, poverty, things like that.' It probably isn't. So I'd like to get rid of that, to help the lower 10 per cent."

such as the above, quoted from a documentary screened in the UK in 20033, is well known. However, in terms of offence caused, his blundering onto perhaps the most dangerous battlefield in all of scientific debate takes insensitivity into another league. The misuse of science, particularly biological science, to justify discrimination and bigotry in the not so distant past4 means that anyone making claims such as Watson's self-described "hot potato"...:

"All our social policies are based on the fact that their [Africans'] intelligence is the same as ours [Whites'] – whereas all the testing says not really"1

must have some damn good scientific evidence to back it up. Watson clearly had nothing of the sort - He today admitted that:

"...there is no scientific basis for such a belief"5
Before the public perception of modern genetic researchers is further tarnished by this tawdry saga, can we let that be the end of it. There's nothing to see here. No new scientific debate. There never was. Just the prejudiced rantings of an arrogant self-promoter living off past glories.

1. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article2630748.ece
2. http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2195333,00.html
3. http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn3451.html
4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,219249,00.html
5. http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2195333,00.html


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