Friday, October 19, 2007

It's elementary Watson

by Capt. Fogg

"What I really meant to say was. . ." is a phrase we hear too often when there's campaigning going on, but of course politicians aren't the only ones putting their feet in their mouths. Nobel Prize winning biologist Jim Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix DNA structure, has managed to get himself quoted on various occasions as saying that women should be allowed to abort gay fetuses if a genetic marker can be discovered, and that there may be a correlation between skin color and sexual prowess.

His recent comments seem clearly to state that the intelligence of Africans is "not the same" as that of non-Africans and that while he hoped everyone was equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true."

After the predictable furor and the cancellation of a lecture, the venerable Dr. Watson seems to have become aware of the multiple gaffe and has now told the Royal Society that "I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said." It's easy, Jim -- just open your mouth and the rest will come naturally to you.

"To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

Well I think that drawing an inference isn't the same as hearing an unequivocal statement, but OK, that's not what you meant and I'm sure that the explanation is elementary. Just don't tell us it had anything to do with a wide stance or a piece of toilet paper on the floor. That one's been used already.

Meanwhile I'm going outside to work on my tan.

Cross posted from Human Voices


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you don't like that backpedaling, wait until you see the full story in his second go-round with the Independent.

Rather than an apology, they characterize his remarks as a defense:

James Watson, the Nobel laureate who shocked the world with his views on race and intelligence, has defended his position in an exclusive article for The Independent today in which he seeks to justify his theory that there is a genetic basis behind differences in IQ.

Dr Watson, who helped to unravel the structure of DNA more than 50 years ago, apologises for any offence that he caused when he suggested in an interview at the weekend that black Africans were less intelligent than Westerners.

But he restates his position that studying genes may help to understand variations in intelligence.

Tom Maguire

11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Well to be fair, there's a genetic basis for everything to do with any living being, but IQ isn't like horsepower or volts and measuring intelligence is somewhat less than scientific.

If you define intelligence as not saying dumb things, Old Watson just flunked his intelligence test.

12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Swampcracker said...

Henceforth, when one talks about James Watson, one should also mention the name of Rosalind Franklin, one of the unsung heroes in science who did not receive the recognition she deserved:

Rosalind Franklin was born in London, England on July 25, 1920. From 1947 to 1950, Franklin visited the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l'Etat in Paris and learned about X-ray crystallography.

The following year, she returned to England to work at King's College in the University of London with physicist John Randall in an interdisciplinary group. Her assignment was to study DNA using X-ray crystallography.

It was in 1951-1952 that she discovered two forms of DNA and that one had a helical structure. She and graduate student Raymond Gosling published a paper in 1953 on the DNA double helix. It was received by the journal Nature 11 days after a similar one submitted by Watson and Crick. Both papers were published simultaneously, but Watson and Crick received the Nobel Prize in 1962.

Rosalind Franklin was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1956 and died on April 16, 1958.

4:27:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Really. For a smart guy, Watson sure said some dumb sh*t.

5:56:00 PM  
Blogger Swampcracker said...

I remember an interview with Watson, perhaps 25 years back, wherein he admited to no more than an average IQ. Should this be a surprise?

8:24:00 PM  
Blogger Capt. Fogg said...

Sadly that story isn't all that rare in the history of science or technology.

Remember Bill Shockley, who led the Bell Labs transistor project? He also managed a Watson-level gaffe that irritated a lot of people.

In a way it's sad that the subject of genetics has become a political mine field, but there's no excuse for being this dumb. He's hardly a credit to his race as some might say.

2:14:00 PM  

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